Texas Comptroller’s Website Features Dominique Baker’s Work on Student Loan Debt

Dominique Baker, assistant professor in education policy, SMU, Simmons School of Education Policy and Human Development

Assistant Professor Dominique Baker released a study in 2019 on student loan debt in Texas, looking at how undergraduate students are managing their debts after leaving college. She examined student characteristics for the debt-to-income ratio of those who attended public four-year institutions.

“What I generally found is these facets of students’ characteristics, including their race and their gender, can predict whether or not these students have high debt-to-income ratios,” says Baker. Her study also shows that black and Hispanic students borrow more than white peers, but Asian-American students borrow less.

For more on the issue, read the Texas Comptroller article, and SMU Research.

 

 

DMN Editorial on Dept. of Ed Funding Changes to Rural Schools Relies on Simmons Expertise

Simmons professors Alexandra Pavlakis and Meredith Richards look at research information with Kessa Roberts, post doctoral fellow.

Simmons post doctoral fellow Kessa Roberts, Ph.D, explains current facts about rural schools in a Dallas Morning News editorial looking at a Department of Education plan to reduce their funding

A bipartisan effort by U.S. senators stopped changes that would impact already impoverished and struggling rural schools. Roberts notes that the country’s majority of rural students reside in Texas. She says that additionally Texas provides less funding to rural schools than most states. Read more.

Roberts is part of the research team created by Simmons professors Alexandra Pavlakis and Meredith Richards to examine education data on Houston homeless students. Read more on the Simmons blog.

Simmons School Ranked in Top 25 of Private Schools by U.S. News and World Report

A significant rise in rankings places SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development in the top tier of graduate education schools according to the 2021 U.S. News & World Report, released online March 17. Simmons’ new ranking of 63 for public and private graduate schools of education leaps over last year’s 105.

Only two Texas universities rank higher than SMU Simmons–UT Texas at Austin and Texas A&M at College Station. Among national private universities, Simmons is in the top 25. Rankings were assessed for 255 schools.

“Our faculty members understand the importance of collaborating and focusing on research that improves educational outcomes for all students,” said Leon Simmons Endowed Dean Stephanie L. Knight. “I am proud of them and their incredible productivity. They continue to raise the bar for scholarship and consistently translate their research into practice.”

“We are a very young school that was established at SMU in 2005.  Despite our youth and our relatively small size, the ranking demonstrates that we are nationally competitive and that our contributions to research are significant,” she added.

For ranking education schools, U.S. News & World Report considers measures of academic quality, including faculty resources, student selectivity, doctoral degrees granted, in addition to peer assessment scores and research activity.

 

 

Gándara Discusses Pluses and Minuses of Performance-based Funding for State Colleges and Universities

Assistant Professor of Higher Education Denisa Gándara, SMU Simmons

The Conversation, a journalistic publication focusing on academia, interviews Denisa Gándara, assistant professor of higher education in Simmons, about performance-based funding for state colleges and universities.

She points out there is a resurgence in tying state funding to graduation rates because of a renewed interest in college completion. The Great Recession also pushed state legislators to ask higher education institutions to do more with less.  The question is, does performance-based funding work?

“I call performance-based funding policies the “zombies of higher education,” she says. “I say this because they seem to be the higher education policies that no amount of evidence can kill.” Read more on why she believes the approach does not work.

Gándara first published a paper on the topic in the Journal of Higher Education, May 2019.

West Dallas STEM School Featured in Park Cities People Insert on STEAM

SMU’s Stephanie L. Knight, Leon Simmons Endowed Dean, heads up the planning grant for the upcoming West Dallas STEM School.

Park Cities People and Preston Hollow People published a special section on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) education, including an article on the design and planning for the new West Dallas STEM school. The work for the PreK-8 school is supported by a $2 million grant provided by Toyota USA Foundation to SMU Simmons. Read more about the partnership between Simmons, Dallas ISD, Toyota, and members of the West Dallas communities.

Dominique Baker Receives AERA and Spencer Foundation Grants

Dominique J. Baker, assistant professor of education policy, has been awarded an American Educational Research Association (AERA) research grant and a Spencer Foundation small research grant.

The AERA research grant will provide $25,000 to examine the effect of a Texas state policy designed to increase college completion and limit college student debt by incentivizing students to take fewer classes unrelated to their degree (excess semester credit hour policies).

In Texas, public institutions may charge in-state students up to the full out-of-state price once students gain credits above a certain level.

This policy is designed to discourage students from taking classes not needed for graduation while encouraging colleges to create more streamlined pathways to a degree. Prior research suggests that these types of policies may encourage students to simply borrow more instead of focusing on graduating more quickly. These types of policies may also affect transfer students if their transfer credits do not count toward their degree program, but do count toward the overall number of cumulative credits they are allowed to pursue.

The Spencer small research grant will provide $50,000 for Baker to investigate whether Texas community college districts show evidence of racial gerrymandering. Some scholars have found evidence of racial gerrymandering in K-12 attendance school zones across the United States. However, little research has focused on how district boundaries are created for community colleges. This project will use several different geospatial techniques to produce evidence on whether racial gerrymandering exists, and whether boundaries alleviate or worsen segregation in community colleges.

While both research projects focus on Texas as case studies, these policies exist in several other states.  Baker aims to provide scholars, policymakers, and the public with evidence on the extent to which inequities are embedded within state higher education policies on course-taking behaviors, and in the creation of community college districts.

She will begin work on both studies in 2020.

Pavlakis and Richards Analyze Education Outcomes of Homeless Students in Houston

Alexandra Pavlakis, assistant professor, Education Policy and Leadership Department

Student homelessness is on the rise nationally, and roughly 10 percent of all U.S. homeless students live in Texas. To see how this growing student population is faring educationally, professors Alexandra Pavlakis, Meredith Richards, and postdoctoral fellow Kessa Roberts are engaged in long-term research with the Houston Independent School District, the seventh-largest district in the country. The number of homeless students there rose to approximately 30,000 after Hurricane Harvey, and many have not recovered.

Meredith Richards, assistant professor, Education Policy and Leadership Department

Working with the school district and Houston Education Research Consortium (HERC) at Rice University, Pavlakis, Richards, and Roberts want to know how homeless students are doing relative to non-homeless students. They are examining attendance, discipline, achievement, and attainment. Part of what they are seeing is that outcomes depend on factors such as where students sleep at night, and if they are on their own or accompanied by adults.

They just concluded their first phase of research, which involves quantitative analysis, and their report comes out in the spring.

As a commitment to the project, their research team created and distributed a bilingual directory of community resources to homeless families in the school district. The Moody Foundation and SMU’s University Research Council support the research.

 

CORE Finds Positive Results for Summer Programs Run by the Dallas City of Learning Collaborative

Annie Wright, director of evaluation for CORE

The Dallas City of Learning, an organizational effort to fight student loss of learning during summer, received a positive assessment from the Center on Research and Evaluation at SMU Simmons.

Annie Wright, CORE’s director of evaluation, reported that the more students participated in summer learning programs, the more pronounced were the gains.

“What we’re seeing is that the effect of summer learning extends well into the school year,” Wright said.

The Dallas City of Learning is a partnership between the City of Dallas, Dallas ISD, and Big Thought. Read more.

Marketplace Radio Reports on Status of Student Loans Using Dominique Baker’s Expertise

More students from higher-income families are taking out loans to go to college, according to a Marketplace report on public radio. Assistant Professor Dominique Baker explains how higher-income families are more apt to chose more expensive schools and also use Parent PLUS, which allows borrowing up to the full cost of attendance.

Baker says, “Income is not wealth. That’s critical to keep in mind because there are some families that have the same amounts of income, but they have different economic resources that they can tap into to help support students through college.”  Read more.

Gándara Selected as Finalist for William T. Grant Scholars Program

Denisa Gándara, assistant professor of higher education in the Department of Education Policy and Leadership, is one of ten finalists for the William T. Grant Scholars Program. Early career researchers submit proposals for five-year research and mentoring plans designed to expand their skills and knowledge. Applicants are nominated by their institutions.

The ten finalists will be interviewed in February 2019 and four to six Scholars will be announced in March. Those selected will each receive $350,000 over five years and participate in annual meetings. The Scholars Program began in 1982 and has a rich history of supporting the development of early-career researchers in the social, behavioral, and health sciences.