UMass Amherst Receives $215,000 Nellie Mae Foundation Grant to Study How Policy Changes Affect New England Students

AMHERST, Mass. - The University of Massachusetts was recently awarded a one-year $215,000 grant from the non-profit Nellie Mae Foundation to conduct a study on how changes in educational policy affect New England students as they move from primary, secondary, and high school through college. The study will be conducted by the Massachusetts Institute for Social and Economic Research (MISER) and the Center for Education Policy (CEP) in the School of Education located at the University''s Amherst campus.

University researchers will try to determine which policy changes affect overall student enrollment patterns in colleges and universities in each New England state and the region as a whole. At the K-12 level, the research team will examine the effects of high-stakes testing such as the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exam (MCAS), new graduation requirements, and new curricular expectations. At the post-secondary level, researchers will focus on the impact of new admissions, financial aid, and remedial education programs. Special attention will be focused on how policy changes affect low-income and minority students.

Part of the work is a survey of college and university chief executive officers, chief academic officers, directors of admissions and financial aid, enrollment management heads, and other key policy makers in New England to learn about attitudes and perceptions that affect admissions to colleges and universities. Follow-up interviews with some of the survey respondents will also be conducted. The information gathered will be combined with demographic data available from other sources.

All the data collected by MISER and CEP will be used to construct a model for tracking the simultaneous and interactive effects of policy and demographic changes. A formal report will be written and submitted to the Nellie Mae Foundation based on the research and the modeling.

"Estimation of the effects of affirmative admissions and high-stakes secondary education testing require the integration of a great deal of data, something at which MISER excels," says Stephen P. Coelen, MISER''s director. "The project will draw inferences across the different New England states where policies with regard to access and opportunity are considerably different."

"It is particularly important that we learn more about the connections between public policy that focuses on post-secondary education and the public policy in the K-12 sector," says Joseph B. Berger, associate director of CEP. He says researchers want to examine how policy decisions can affect access to colleges and universities, especially for low-income and minority populations.

"We are very excited to be working with MISER and CEP on this important study," says Blenda J. Wilson, president and chief executive of the Nellie Mae Foundation. "Given the dramatic demographic changes the region is facing in terms of increasing minority and immigrant populations, it is imperative that we understand the barriers to higher education access for low-income students. These students are our future workforce and community leaders. Equal access to a college education will ensure continued community improvement and stability throughout New England."

Nellie Mae Foundation was established in July 1998. Through grant-making, research, and policy initiatives, the NMF works with educational institutions and associations, social and community organizations, government agencies, and other entities to promote educational access and progression for students, especially from under-served populations, in grades five through post-secondary levels and adult literacy programs. In 1999 and 2000, the NMF committed a total of $12 million in grant funding to non-profit programs in New England, including college access, supplemental education, and adult and family-learning programs.