“Making College Work” Offers Policy Recommendations to Better Support Disadvantaged College Students

Washington, D.C. — In their new book, “Making College Work: Pathways to Success for Disadvantaged Students,” Harry J. Holzer and Sandy Baum discuss ways in which education researchers and policymakers can work to ensure more successful outcomes for students from disadvantaged backgrounds who attend college.

“Making College Work” addresses key issues that students from disadvantaged backgrounds tend to experience, including not completing college; studying in fields with low labor market returns; and accumulating debt without receiving a college degree, or without finding work for which they are well-compensated after college. 

“When we look at the relationship between disadvantaged students and higher education,” said Dr. Holzer, a Georgetown Professor and American Institutes for Research (AIR) Institute Fellow, “too many times the conversation centers on access. But in addition to sending them to college, we need to focus on how we can graduate these students and ensure they’re set up for success in the labor market.”

Drs. Holzer and Baum call for a broad set of enhanced services for students, and reforms on the institutions they attend. They present evidence-based policy solutions that target both individual students and institutions where more disadvantaged students enroll (community and for-profit colleges), including:

  • For individual students, the authors recommend solutions that focus on providing better supports and services to students—such as reforming financial aid and developmental (or remedial) education; providing students with customized information to help them make better college choices before submitting applications; and helping community colleges implement supports and services, including career services, in affordable ways suited to their unique populations and institutional characteristics.
  • For institutions, the authors suggest reforms aimed at restructuring colleges to provide more structured career pathways through the curriculum for students; creating stronger linkages between course offerings and labor market demands (through sector partnerships, occupational training, etc.); providing effective regulation of for-profit colleges; and increasing the opportunities for, and availability of, high-quality career and technical education (CTE) programs and pathways, apprenticeships, and work-based learning programs beginning in secondary schools.

Holzer and Baum also advocate for a stronger sense of recognition that acknowledges that not all students will obtain bachelors–or even associates–degrees, so will need a wider variety of high-quality college and career pathways to choose from to ensure their success in postsecondary education and the labor market.

Research and data in the book include work by Dr. Holzer for the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER). CALDER, a federally-funded education research program, is managed by AIR in partnership with scholars from the University of Washington, Stanford University, the University of Virginia, and several other institutions.

The book is available from Brookings Institution Press and other online booksellers.

About AIR 

Established in 1946, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research and delivers technical assistance both domestically and internationally in the areas of health, education, and workforce productivity. For more information, visit www.air.org.