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Tulane economist testifies in front of Senate committee

January 27, 2014 11:00 AM

Ryan Rivet
rrivet@tulane.edu

Earlier this month, Tulane economist Doug Harris was called to offer testimony before the U.S. Senate's Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee to discuss changes in federal programs that aim to improve access to postsecondary education by helping underserved students prepare for college.

Doug Harris

Doug Harris, an associate professor of economics and the University Endowed Chair in Public Education, testified in front of a U.S. Senate subcommittee about two education outreach programs earlier this month. (Photo by Paula Burch-Celentano)


Harris, an associate professor of economics and the University Endowed Chair in Public Education, was on Capitol Hill to offer his expertise on two education outreach programs — TRIO, which includes programs like Upward Bound, and GEAR UP — in a hearing that was part of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

Harris says the committee is trying to determine whether the programs should be continued and if they should be changed to increase efficiency and efficacy. Harris says he advocates the latter, and offered data from a study showing the programs work for some groups of students. 

“We found that the students that were the most disadvantaged were the ones who benefitted most from participating in Upward Bound,” Harris says.

Harris says that his analysis shows that participants in programs like TRIO and GEAR UP were more likely to graduate from high school, had better GPAs and were more than 10 percent more likely to get some sort of postsecondary credential. He says that alone is reason enough to keep the programs operating. 

“From an economics standpoint, it easily passes the cost-benefit test,” Harris says. “If you look at the cost of the services versus the long-term benefit to the students of getting the degree and then having higher employment likelihood and higher earnings, the benefits are 10 times the costs.” 

Harris says the programs, if targeted to the most needy students and to their individual needs, can have a lasting impact on the country from both an economic and social justice perspective, and because of that, continuing them has bipartisan support.

“I don’t think the programs will be cut in the end; they might even be expanded,” he says.



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