Education Policy Initiative Newsletter
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EPI: Driven to Engage

Focus on Detroit

Expanding Capacity to Improve Aid Policy

Guiding Students toward Higher Ed

$5.6 million in New Federal Grants

New Doctoral Program in Causal Inference

Personnel Updates

Driven to Engage

The Education Policy Initiative engages with practitioners, policymakers and key legislative agencies to identify pertinent education policy questions, conduct rigorous research, and disseminate findings. Co-Directors Susan Dynarski and Brian Jacob founded the initiative in 2012.

Our research seeks to improve educational outcomes at all stages – from preschool through adult education. See our website to review our work. We highlight a few of these efforts in this newsletter.

Focus on Detroit

EPI has joined efforts with local education experts to help improve the conditions of Detroit's education system. These efforts took place against the backdrop of a system-wide education review by the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Governor Snyder and many others.

EPI has embarked upon a partnership with Excellent Schools Detroit, a nonprofit striving to improve educational options in Detroit by empowering parents and policymakers with high quality information. Excellent Schools Detroit publishes an annual Scorecard on school quality that is widely used by Detroit parents, community stakeholders, and elected officials in educational decision-making.

This year EPI enhanced the overall rigor of the evaluation methodology by tapping into Dynarski and Jacob's modeling expertise, as well as improving the underlying data supporting the 2015 Scorecard, by analyzing student longitudinal data at the school level.

"Working in partnership with EPI has enhanced our measures and shed new light on the performance of our education system," said Armen Hratchian, vice president of Excellent Schools Detroit. "As stakeholders consider the path forward for Detroit's schools, from Detroit parents to civic leadership, and all the way to the Governor's Office, we need a common set of facts to cut through politics. EPI's growing presence in Detroit is making that possible."

Underlying data used in the 2015 Scorecard are derived from the researcher-ready student longitudinal data files which have been developed through the Michigan Consortium for Educational Research, a six-year partnership funded by the Institute of Education Sciences between EPI, the Michigan Department of Education and Center for Educational Performance and Information and Michigan State College of Education.

Future of Education in Detroit Speaker Series

October 2014
Flyer for October 2014 Future of Education in Detroit
March 2015
Flyer for March 2015 Future of Education in Detroit

Photo credit: "CC BY 2.0" by Dave Hogg

EPI hosted two panels on the Future of Education in Detroit in October 2014 and March 2015, featuring Detroit-based administrators, educators and community leaders. The panelists asked provocative questions, shared personal challenges and triumphs, and identified governance and structural issues that need to be addressed for education in Detroit to advance.

Expanding Analytic Capacity to Improve Aid Policy

Photo of International Forum on Student Aid Policy
Dynarski presents at the 4th International Forum on Student Aid Policy in Songdo Convensia, Incheon, South Korea.

"We are frighteningly in the dark about student debt," Susan Dynarski wrote in a recent New York Times article. Dynarski has dedicated considerable effort to overcome barriers to improving financial aid policy and expanding access to higher education. One of the paths to do so is through making the data, and data sources, available to researchers and policymakers interested in improving the student loan system.

The individual-level data required for robust student loan policy analysis exist in a number of different government silos; Dynarski's view is that the data are separated by bureaucratic and legal barriers and need to be merged. See Dynarski and Co-Author Mark Wiederspan's policy brief, described in Column B, on one approach.

Dynarski has consulted broadly on the topic, including with leaders and staff at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, White House, Treasury and Department of Education. She presented in South Korea, met in Australia with the architect of their loans programs and will meet with British colleagues to discuss their loans system. This effort is gaining traction and is supported by funding from the Spencer Foundation.

Guiding Students toward Higher Education

Photo of Joshua Hyman
Former EPI postdoctoral fellow Joshua Hyman (Ford '13) works on expanding higher education enrollment and retention.

Joshua Hyman, assistant professor at the University of Connecticut (Ford PhD '13 and former EPI postdoctoral fellow), was recently awarded a research grant for $334,000 from a private foundation to help expand student enrollment and retention in higher education. The project, "Designing and Evaluating a College Application and Planning Course in Michigan," is in collaboration with the Michigan Department of Education and the Michigan College Access Network.

As the principal investigator, Hyman will lead the development and evaluation of a twelfth-grade course that teaches students about postsecondary opportunities, guides students through postsecondary and financial aid application processes, and teaches students strategies for succeeding during their first year in postsecondary school. Using a mix of survey and administrative data, the effects of the course on students' college application, enrollment, and persistence behavior will be evaluated through a school-level randomized control trial in approximately fifty Michigan public high schools.

EPI Awarded $5.6mln in Federal Grants

Photo of Brian Jacob
The Institute of Education Sciences recently awarded Brian Jacob, Susanna Loeb (Stanford) and Cassandra Hart (UC-Davis) a $1.6 million, three-year grant to expand their work on virtual education in Florida.

Terrific New Program in Causal Inference

Photo of Susan Dynarski
The University of Michigan is one of five universities to receive the Institute of Education Sciences' prestigious Predoctoral Training Grant. Led by Dynarski, the $4.0mln grant will fund up to 19 doctoral students over five years.

Dynarski will lead a core team of faculty from the Ford School (Jacob), Department of Economics (John Bound and Jeff Smith) and School of Education (Stephen DesJardins and Christina Weiland), as well as the Rackham Graduate School, to establish the new program at the University of Michigan.

"This grant will enable us to train nearly 20 doctoral students, developing their technical expertise and practical experience in causal inference in education research," stated Dynarski. "While the program is open to students in any of the social sciences, we anticipate drawing initially from education, public policy and economics."

The program will be housed administratively at EPI. Check our training grant website for details and application procedures in Fall 2015.

Personnel Updates

A Bittersweet Farewell: Long-term EPI Researchers Complete their Doctoral Studies

Jonathan Hershaff and Mark Wiederspan are EPI's longest-serving research assistants; each started working with us in 2009 as they began their doctoral studies. Jon and Mark contributed significantly to longitudinal research projects focused on K-12 and higher education in Michigan, and authored or co-authored many research papers. They have been invaluable to our efforts and we are proud of their accomplishments and next career steps.

Photo of Jonathan Hershaff
Jonathan Hershaff (UM Econ PhD '15)

Jonathan Hershaff earned his doctorate degree in economics and has accepted a position as an Economist in the Securities & Exchange Commission. Jon's dissertation explores the financial decisions of consumers and the way in which outside actors can play a role in influencing such decisions. These actors can include governments, non-profits, and private corporations.

His job market paper explores the role of the lender in preventing student loan defaults. He finds that otherwise similar borrowers with identical loans within the same schools have a lower default risk when the lender is the department of education instead of private companies. He finds evidence suggesting this reduced default risk is due to the differences in pecuniary incentives between private and public lenders to keep borrowers out of default. Jon presented this paper in numerous seminars at the University of Michigan and at the 2014 Association for Public Policy Analysis & Management national conference.

Photo of the Wiederspan family with Susan Dynarski
Susan Dynarski celebrates Mark Wiederspan's graduation with his wife Jessica and daughter Anna.

Mark Wiederspan is a recent graduate of the University of Michigan's higher education administration doctoral program. His dissertation examines three aspects of federal financial aid policy in the United States and job market paper "Denying Loan Access: The Student-Level Consequences When Community Colleges Opt Out of the Stafford Loan Program," focuses on the student-level consequences when community colleges opt out of federal loan programs. He has co-authored several papers with Susan Dynarski examining the feasibility of simplifying the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and an article with Rong Chen on student loan debt burden. Mark's work has appeared in the Journal of Higher Education, the National Tax Journal, and Tax Policy and the Economy.

Mark begins in Fall 2015 as assistant professor in the Mary Lou Fulton Teacher's College at Arizona State University.

Photo of Sarah Cannon
Sarah Cannon (Northwestern PhD '15 in Human Development and Social Policy) will join EPI in August as postdoctoral fellow.

Sarah's research interests focus on education policy and how the rural social context affects individuals and communities. Previously, she taught high school math through Teach for America in South Dakota.

photo of CJ Libassi
CJ Libassi (Ford MPP '15) joins the EPI staff as research project manager and will support our work in Detroit and on improving access to higher education. CJ gained education policy experience at the New America Foundation and classroom experience as a Teach for America Corps Member in Maryland and Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Spain.


June 2015

New Open-Access Resources

Free to the Public

EPI Policy Brief

Co-authors Dynarski and Wiederspan describe how the complexity in the FAFSA​ hinders students' ability to meet ​financial aid​ deadlines and examine the feasibility of using a​ simplified formula to determine aid eligibility.

Cover of policy brief

Policy ideas in the brief are currently under legislative review.

AERA Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis

Special Issue on Researcher-Practitioner Partnerships

Susan Dynarski and Mark Berends guest-edited a special -free- issue for American Educational Research Association on researcher-practitioner partnerships and student longitudinal data systems.


Dynarski and Berends

Additional papers by EPI researchers and affiliates

The Missing Manual: Using National Student Clearinghouse Data to Track Postsecondary Outcomes

Dynarski, Hemelt and Hyman

What Research Do State Education Agencies Really Need? The Promise and Limitations of State Longitudinal Data Systems

Conaway, Keesler and Schwartz

Additional Topics
also available to download

CIERS Seminar continues over the summer

Causal Inference in Education Sciences meets Wednesdays at 11:30

- check schedule here -

Seminar series for doctoral students and faculty engaged in rigorous evaluation of education research

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