Transitions to and through Higher Education

By focusing on transitions to and through higher education, NERCHE’s aim is to improve practice around teaching and learning through practitioner-based, campus-wide efforts to promote the retention and success of students, namely underserved students enrolled in public four-year colleges and universities in New England.  NERCHE supports innovative institutional programs and strategies that strive to eliminate achievement gaps and significantly increase academic success, retention, and graduation rates for students of color, low-income undergraduate students, and students who are first in their family to attend college.  The Center also collaborates on projects that support the efforts of public urban colleges and universities to instruct practitioners about service-learning pedagogy and the public policy context in which urban schools are situated.


Current Projects:


Past Projects:

Economic, Informational, and Cultural Barriers to Community College Student Transfer Enrollment at Selective Institutions
NERCHE recently completed work on a national study aimed at examining the opportunities and barriers surrounding transfer to the most elite colleges and universities in the United States for low-income community college students. Funded by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation (JKCF), Lumina Foundation for Education, and Nellie Mae Education Foundation, the Study of Economic, Informational, and Cultural Barriers to Transfer Access at Selective Institutions will inform JKCF’s Community College Transfer Initiative. This five-year initiative seeks to increase opportunities for high-achieving, academically prepared, low- to moderate-income students to transfer to selective colleges and universities and includes funded research, grants, and a national conference.

The results of the study are detailed in the final report, Transfer Access to Elite Colleges and Universities in the United States: Threading the Needle of the American Dream.

The research team, led by Dr. Alicia Dowd and Dr. Glenn Gabbard from University of Massachusetts Boston’s (UMB) New England Resource Center for Higher Education (NERCHE), comprise a pool of talent with extensive expertise in higher education research generally, and community colleges and selective institutions specifically. The research team also has broad experience in qualitative and quantitative research methodologies. The other members of the research team are Dr. Dwight Giles, senior associate at NERCHE, Dr. Estela Bensimon, director of USC’s Center for Urban Education, Dr. Elsa Macias, a senior research associate in USC’s Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, Dr. Tatiana Melguizo, an assistant professor in USC’s Rossier School of Education, Dr. Dwight Giles, faculty member in UMB’s Higher Education Leadership program, Dr. Jay Dee, co-director of UMB’s New England Center for Inclusive Teaching, Dr. John Saltmarsh, NERCHE director, and Dr. John Cheslock, an assistant professor the University of Arizona’s Center for the Study of Higher Education. Contact: Dr. John Saltmarsh: 617-287-7740.


Concept Paper on Student Debt
NERCHE received a planning grant from The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS) to prepare a “Concept Paper on Research and Policy Implications Concerning College Student Debt.” This project was completed by Alicia C. Dowd from UMass Boston with the support of NERCHE staff. Additionally, Alicia presented at the November 16, 2005 TICAS/American Enterprise Institute symposium in Washington, D.C. TICAS's Project on Student Debt brings together experts from across the political spectrum to focus on the implications of rising student debt. By promoting examination of the changing role of student loans, the Project on Student Debt aims to identify potential improvements to the systems and policies that help families pay for college (


The Community College Student Success Project
With funding from the Lumina Foundation for Education, Dr. Alicia Dowd, Assistant Professor of Higher Education at UMASS, Boston, has begun the Community College Student Success Project. The project is designed to support community colleges in conducting effective evaluations of the factors that affect student retention, graduation, and academic progress. Part of this yearlong national project, aimed at exploring issues of accountability, institutional effectiveness, and student outcomes assessment is a series of topic-focused Think Tanks, sponsored and facilitated by NERCHE. The Think Tanks include administrators and institutional researchers, all whom were selected from across New England for their interest and expertise in the relationship between institutional assessment and student success. The group will be balanced among individuals with responsibilities for academic affairs, student affairs, and institutional research- those sometimes disparate functions that have shared responsibility for understanding the factors hat influence student achievement.


Getting Back To Basics? Remedial Education and College Opportunity
Efforts to reevaluate and reform remedial education have increased significantly in recent years, in states ranging from Florida, to New York, to California, to Massachusetts, to Texas.  The Institute for Higher Education Policy and NERCHE—with support from the Ford Foundation—examined how changing remediation policies have affected the organization and delivery of remedial education, admissions practices, and the allocation of financial aid on campuses, particularly for low-income and minority students in the New England region.  This project, which ran from September 2001 through August 2002, combined quantitative analysis, case studies, and small discussion groups to: 1) assess changes at the institutional level that occurred in light of the shifting policy environment, 2) identify best practices and innovations, and 3) improve the public discourse on the issues associated with remedial education.


Evaluation of the Community College Transfer Initiative
NERCHE is partnering with Brandeis University’s Center for Youth and Communities at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, on a five-year project funded by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation to evaluate the Community College Transfer Initiative: Improving Access for Community College Transfers to Selective Four-Year Schools (CCTI). The Foundation is providing funding to eight campuses—Amherst College, Bucknell University, Cornell University, Mount Holyoke College, University of California Berkeley, University of Michigan, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and the University of Southern California—that have formed partnerships with community colleges to facilitate the transfer of low- to moderate-income community college transfer students to their campuses. NERCHE’s Senior Program and Research Associate Sharon Singleton is working with the Heller School’s Senior Research Associate Cathy Burack, Senior Research Associate Susan Lanspery, and Research Associate Ginger Fitzhugh from Brandeis on the evaluation.


Mapping Opportunities for Structural and Cultural Change within Four-Year Public Institutions
Funded by Carnegie Corporation of New York, NERCHE's "Mapping Opportunities" project was formed to convene a select group of individuals from New England's four-year public colleges and universities in an effort to identify the cultural and structural changes needed to facilitate the success of low-income students, students of color, and students who are first in their families to attend college. The one-day meeting, held in mid-January 2009, in Providence, Rhode Island, brought together 25 participants who, along with their respective institutions, have demonstrated commitment to ongoing institutional transformation to better match the assets of underserved students.  Individuals attending the meeting represented a cross-section of campus life, including Presidents, senior leaders in academic affairs, student affairs, administration and fiscal management, institutional research and institutional advancement as well as deans, multicultural center directors, and faculty.  Read more...


Boston Area Social Network Project
UMass Boston partnered with CIRCLE (The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement) and the Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts University on a project using social media to increase and deepen youth civic engagement.

This three-year project was funded by a grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service.  It was administered by NERCHE and coordinated by a leadership team of students in Asian American Studies, along with faculty members Peter Kiang (Asian American Studies and Education), Shirley Tang (Asian American Studies and American Studies), and Sam Museus (Higher Education Doctoral Program).

Through the project, Asian American Studies offered courses employing a community-based curriculum and community-mapping software to analyze community issues and networks. Read more...