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When we think about how to help student outcomes, normally we think about how to improve what happens in the school so students will have better outcomes. But in this episode of Sanford's Policy 360 podcast, we’re going to talk about things that happen outside of school and how they may impact student outcomes.

Person with a big smile and bright orange dress, aviator-style glasses
Alexandra Zagbayou

Durham, North Carolina is home to an organization called Student U, which provides extra academics to participants after the school day and on summer breaks, along with field trips, social workers for families and more. The project was dreamed up by students in a social entrepreneurship course at the Sanford School of Public Policy, and developed in collaboration with the community, including school board members, representatives from University of North Carolina, North Carolina Central University, Duke University, and Durham Academy.

Today, close to 20 years later, the program supports first generation students through middle school, high school, college, and beyond. Student U leadership knew anecdotally that the program was a success: they report a one 100% high school graduation rate. 90% of the participants go on to college. But they didn’t have hard data on how program participants compared to other students in Durham, NC – until now.

Student U program uses a lottery to enroll students. Because the lottery has some winners and losers (some applicants get in, and some don’t) researchers were able to compare outcomes to estimate the effects of the program on educational progress.

Woman smiling
Sarah Komisarow

Researchers found that the lottery winners earned more course credits, achieved higher grade point averages, and were far less likely to be suspended during ninth grade. The researchers also predict that lottery winners are more likely to graduate from high school than lottery losers.

These results suggest that programs like Student U should be considered closely as models by policymakers — the results indicate “comprehensive services outside of time spent in school can yield valuable benefits for disadvantaged students.”


About Policy 360

Policy 360 is a series of policy-focused conversations hosted by Judith Kelley, Dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. New episodes premiere throughout the academic year. Guests have included luminaries like former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former director of the World Bank Jim Yong Kim, as well as researchers from Duke University and other institutions. Conversations are timely and relevant.

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