At a time of great fulmination about the future of American higher education and colleges' ability to successfully educate the country's growing numbers of low-income and academically underprepared citizens, the U.S. Education Department is establishing a new national research center to study just those topics.
The National Research and Development Center on Postsecondary Education, which will be housed at the Community College Research Center at Columbia University's Teachers College,  will be the nation's only federally funded research center on higher education. It is sponsored by the Institute for Education Sciences, which is providing $9.8 million over five years to establish the new center, one of several it is creating. (The others deal with early childhood education and development, gifted and talented education, and local and state policy.) The Columbia center's partners are MDRC, the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, and professors at Harvard University and Princeton University.
The institute's predecessor, the Office for Educational Research and Improvement, had its own research center, the National Center for Postsecondary Improvement  at Stanford University, which shut its doors in 2004.
The new center will focus on efforts by two- and four-year institutions to bolster students' access to higher education and improve the rates at which they earn a degree. “There is a gap in what we know and don’t know about the policies and programs that postsecondary institutions are implementing to improve student access and success in higher education,” said Thomas Brock, director of MDRC. “This grant will give the center the opportunity to do the research that will help us say with more certainty what works and what doesn’t.”
Thomas Bailey, who directs the Community College Research Center and will head the new national center, said it was noteworthy that the department chose to house its new center in a research program with a "very strong focus on community colleges," since traditionally "the large majority of research on higher education has focused on four-year institutions. Bailey said the choice recognized the growing importance and status of two-year institutions.
Bailey said the new center will examine a range of topics, including dual enrollment programs, which enroll high school students in college courses; remediation; learning communities for low-skill students; and financial aid policies and state incentives or sanctions to promote low-income, low-skilled students.