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Why Pooled Evaluation Authority in Higher Education Matters 

Funding the best possible research helps to support students through to graduation. 

The U.S. Department of Education funds many programs across the country in support of students and institutions. But what does it know about what works to help students succeed in school, what doesn’t, and where? Recently, the Department has been given the opportunity to use federal dollars to help answer those questions. 

In the 2022 and 2023 appropriations bills, the Department was given authority to reserve 0.5% of funding from the appropriation for any Higher Education Act-authorized program (excluding Pell Grants and Student Aid Administration funds), and pool those funds to carry out rigorous, independent research and data collection. 

This authority, called pooled evaluation authority, allows the Education Department to better understand the effectiveness of the programs and strategies it funds. The goal is to build an evidence base of effective practices to improve student outcomes. This goal is also shared by Arnold Ventures. In fact, we’ve funded evaluations of several top-tier programs, such as Bottom Line, the Centers of Excellence for Veteran Student Success, and CUNY’s ASAP program, showing sizable, sustained effects on student outcomes. 

Specifically, the Department is interested in strategies to use the funds to assess and strengthen community college capacity, holistic student supports, retention and completion strategies, and efforts to build greater alignment among higher education institutions, K‑12 schools, and the public workforce system. To back those goals and best benefit students and taxpayers, it sought feedback on how the Department could collect data, identify evaluations, and pool information to make it as useful as possible. 

The Department issued a request for information, and Arnold Ventures responded with our suggestions. We urge the Department to: 

  • Pool as much funding as is feasible in future years 
  • Prioritize evaluations of interventions that are most likely to help students remain in school and graduate 
  • Use the strongest research designs possible

Read our full letter here