tc columbia

Policy Lab: Socioeconomic Mobility at the College-to-Work Transition

July 2019–July 2021

CCRC is launching a policy lab in collaboration with the City University of New York (CUNY) to develop broader and more nuanced measures of post-college success; to study what factors predict successful transitions from college into the labor force; and to identify and evaluate programs and policies that strive to promote successful transitions, particularly for disadvantaged groups.

The return to postsecondary education is near historically high levels. Yet the average return masks a high degree of variability in college outcomes, even for those who attend the same college or acquire the same level of degree. In the last decade, the research and policy conversation has turned toward understanding variation in earnings by institution type and quality, degree level, and field of study, with the goal of better informing students about their options and steering them toward high return pathways. Still we know too little about the sources of demographic gaps in outcomes, how students’ experiences within colleges contribute to differences in their post-college success, and the specific transitional pathways students take in the months just before and after leaving college. Non-traditional students—who may be returning to school after some time in the labor force, and who may pursue shorter, more applied degrees—are particularly understudied.

The policy lab’s initial activities will include developing richer measures of post-college socioeconomic outcomes, conducting descriptive analyses to understand the predictors of post-college success, and analyzing promising programs using rigorous quasi-experimental methods. Working with detailed data from CUNY’s 18 two- and four-year campuses, CCRC researchers will examine variation in students’ experiences and outcomes and investigate within-program gaps in outcomes by race/ethnicity, gender, and income.

This project will also include the development of next-generation information tools to support students’ choices of the colleges and programs that will give them the best chance to succeed in the labor market. While federal and state governments have made some progress in giving students more information on the labor market consequences of education and training pathways, better data is needed to support student decisions. This project will examine the feasibility of creating easy-to-use tools that allow data to be: (1) personalized, so that earnings differences across programs better reflect the gains a student can expect to realize; (2) sufficiently nuanced, to assess the long-term earnings consequences and potential downside risks of particular choices; and (3) forward-looking, reflecting the most up-to-date information available.

This project is funded by Schmidt Futures with additional foundation support.