Postsecondary Success Notes | August 2023

“Back-to-school” reflections
Back to school reflections


As some 16 million students head into the classroom this month at colleges and universities across the country, I’m reminded that for many students, the “back-to-school” season is year-round. Students enrolled in summer courses, certificate-granting programs, upskilling at their local community college, those participating in asynchronous learning to accommodate myriad responsibilities like jobs and parenting, and more, have helped redefine what traditional college student means and challenged our higher education system to better meet changing needs and deliver value for a diverse student population.

While many of us engaged in this work don’t need to be persuaded that postsecondary education is valuable for both students and society, the data show there’s more work to be done in demonstrating its value writ large, as evidenced by New America’s seventh annual public opinion survey seeking to understand how Americans’ views on postsecondary education have shifted. Check out the major findings and year-over-year shifts in the full Varying Degrees report.

Since defining college value isn’t one-size-fits-all, solving the value problem shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all model either. Earlier this summer, to align policy and funding incentives with the rapidly changing needs of their workforce, something big happened thanks to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) - everything is bigger in Texas, right?! The THECB was created by the Texas Legislature in 1965 and serves a critical role as a resource, partner, and advocate for higher education in the state.

In Texas’ 88th legislative session, THECB secured a significant investment of $5 billion over the next two years for higher education. And they celebrated the signing of House Bill 8 (HB 8) into law, which codified a new funding model for community colleges across the state. The passage of HB 8, which includes the allocation of $683 million in the state budget, will tie funding for community colleges to measurable student outcomes, and reward institutions for helping their students get to and through college. While the efficacy of performance-based funding is mixed, this historic financial contribution signals that investing in students’ pursuit of postsecondary education isn’t enough if we’re not putting them on the path to acquire meaningful credentials that expand opportunities. I am eager to see how the THECB’s commitment to student success incentivizes institutions to do better for their students.

There’s no silver bullet to improving value in higher education, but the data show our job as postsecondary champions is far from over, and there are examples of innovative approaches to moving the needle for students all around us to learn from and be inspired by.


Patrick Methvin

Patrick Methvin

Director, Postsecondary Success


Quick Takes

As I shared in my note, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to solving the higher ed value problem. Students can’t get through college if they continue struggling to even get in the door. Better connecting workforce needs to education is critical to designing curricula and degree programs that increase students' employment opportunities after graduation – serving both the student and the local economy. The research continues to show that inequities in postsecondary value begin well before the admissions process begins... so, let’s get to work

Education, the Workforce and the Imperative to Connect the Data Dots

How well are your state’s education and workforce systems performing for students? How do you know? The surprising truth is that most public officials have a difficult time answering these questions because of disjointed, siloed data systems that fail to assess and address disparities along the pre-K-to-workforce continuum. To help, Mathematica, Mirror Group, and members of the Gates Foundation’s education data team worked with researchers, policymakers, practitioners, and community advocates to gather input and review more than 40 existing ed-to-workforce data frameworks. The result: a publicly available resource centered on student success called the Education to Workforce Indicator Framework.

U.S. Department of Education Releases Resources to Advance Diversity in Higher Ed

Following the Supreme Court’s decision on race-conscious admissions, there have been more questions than answers about what colleges and universities are lawfully allowed to do to advance diversity and opportunities for current and future students. Together in partnership with the Department of Justice, the U.S. Department of Education released resources to assist postsecondary institutions in identifying legal tactics and strategies they may pursue in their recruitment, enrollment, and retention efforts. For more information about the Court’s decision and guidance for the higher education community, check out the  Dear Colleague Letter  and a Questions and Answers resource.

Opportunity Insights Research Shows Admissions Preference for Rich Students

new study from Harvard-based economists Opportunity Insights analyzes the role of elite colleges in promoting socioeconomic equity and upward mobility. The research release comes on the heels of the Supreme Court’s ban on affirmative action and in response to conversations around college admissions dominating the media headlines for years – from the “Varsity Blues” cheating scandal and COVID to “test-blind” and “test-optional” admissions practices. The central finding of the research shows that “Eliminating legacy preferences, evaluating non-academic characteristics in better context to account for the effects of privilege, and recruiting athletes more uniformly across the parental income distribution would increase the share of students from the bottom 95% of the parental income distribution who attend Ivy-Plus colleges by 8.7 percentage points – about 144 students in a typical Ivy-Plus college class.”