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Researchers from BU’s School of Education and the University of Wisconsin will join with policy makers throughout Massachusetts to study how young people can be better prepared for college and career success, thanks to a $1 million, three-year grant for the SED-based Massachusetts Institute for College and Career Readiness (MICCR). The funding comes from the Institute of Education Sciences, a branch of the federal Department of Education.
“I’m not aware of anyone who’s doing a project like this,” says V. Scott Solberg, an SED professor of counseling and human development and associate dean for research and one of the MICCR’s seven coleaders. In order for Massachusetts to generate the intellectual capital needed to attract new business, it’s “going to need a better team spirit between the school districts and the mayors’ offices,” he says, adding that the new program will focus on lower-performing schools in what are referred to as Gateway Cities, former manufacturing centers such as Holyoke, Lowell, Pittsfield, Springfield, and Worcester. Taking a team approach, the researchers will use the three-year grant to look at early warning indicators among middle school and high school students and to collaborate on possible interventions, Solberg says.
“In order to create the workforce we need to have a successful economy, we must increase access to college for a historically disenfranchised group,” says Hardin Coleman, dean of SED. “To increase the percentage of students who go to and complete college, we must increase the percentage of students who leave high school and college career-ready. To achieve our goals, we must improve the alignment between research, policy, and practice. The MICCR is an excellent step toward achieving that alignment.”
The grant will involve collaboration among SED, MassINC’s Gateway Cities Innovation Institute, and the Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy, a think tank established by the state secretary of education in 2002.
The MICCR, an organization its creators say will “bridge the policy-research gap,” is based on the principle that students need certain skills to complete college and become employable and that ensuring that youths possess these skills has broad long-term implications for economic growth and stability. Through their work, MICCR researchers will not only advise and inform policy makers, says Solberg, but those on the state level making education policy will have the support of researchers in the field in enacting these policies. “We see this grant as a first step,” he says. “We hope to continue long-term evaluation and to sustain the model.” And while MICCR faculty researchers won’t be paid, after the system is built and its work showcased, he adds, he envisions an eventual “fee-for-service model.”
The project, which will be led by a group that includes education faculty from the University of Wisconsin’s Madison and Milwaukee campuses as well as a professor from UMass Amherst and representatives from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, will embed researchers in schools to “help them design studies, analyze data, and interpret data they already have,” says Solberg. “The project will both provide support and help translate research into policy and bridge the cultural divide between researchers and communities. We’ll build systems and help support school districts in Gateway Cities.” BU was the architect of the project, in close cooperation with the Rennie Center and MassINC.
Solberg hopes the project will attract creative, forward-thinking researchers looking “to have an impact on people’s lives.” It’s exciting, he says, “because we’re not quite sure what will happen.”