Access and Success With Less: Improving Productivity in Broad-Access Postsecondary Institutions

This article reviews research on what “broad-access” postsecondary institutions—community colleges and less selective public universities—can do to graduate more students at a lower cost without sacrificing access or quality.

Research indicates that the strategies broad-access institutions have relied on in the past to cut costs—using part-time instructors and increasing student–faculty ratios—may in fact reduce productivity and efficiency. The limited evidence available suggests that some of the most popular strategies for improving student success are not cost-effective. The article examines evidence on the cost-effectiveness of new strategies, including redesigning courses using technology and reorganizing programs and supports more broadly to create stronger pathways through college for students.

The authors argue that as policymakers push colleges to lower the cost per graduate, they must avoid providing incentives to lower academic standards. They encourage policymakers to capitalize on recent research on the economic value of postsecondary education to measure quality and urge colleges and universities to redouble efforts to define learning outcomes and measure student mastery.

The article was published in Future of Children, vol. 23.