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Facilitating Access
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Colleges and universities are increasingly focused on developing programs for both assessing and promoting student success, particularly for historically underserved students. NORC has been at the forefront of helping them identify and measure the factors that most improve student outcomes.

Shazia Miller, SVP
Education & Child Development

Over the last several decades, educators and policymakers have worked to increase the numbers of low-income and underrepresented youth who enroll in college. But recent research shows that career earnings from a bachelor’s degree are not as large for people from lower-income backgrounds as they are for people from more advantaged families. To begin to understand why, the UChicago Consortium on School Research and NORC launched a three-year study of the college-to-career transition of Chicago-area young people, particularly first-generation college students from low-income backgrounds. The study combines employment data and institutional data with a new survey of recent college graduates. The survey focuses on certificate and degree completion, transition from college to workforce, and the job search experience.

The study is intended to provide insights to postsecondary leaders, employers, the philanthropic community, other researchers, and the public at large. To reach this diverse set of stakeholders, NORC will produce a range of targeted communications, including targeted insight reports, infographics, and research articles. The project is guided by an advisory group consisting of members of the local business, nonprofit, and higher education community that has been providing feedback on the direction of the research. As the project progresses, they will facilitate interpretation of and context for the findings.

NORC is also working on a project funded by the Helios Education Foundation to better understand what kinds of social and academic connections help high school seniors make it to college. Some previous research suggested that having an extremely tight group of friends, family, and other supporters is the best path toward success. However, NORC’s research found that extreme networks—either extremely tight or extremely fragmented—are risk factors for college access. Access is maximized with a balanced network.

The broader but more integrated the social network a student belongs to—for instance, band, theater, and soccer—the better the outcome.

By talking to a cohesive but broad set of peers, for example, students can learn about important topics such as financial aid sources, the best colleges to apply to, scholarships, and recommendation letters.