Elizabeth Zachry Rutschow
Zachry Rutschow
Senior Associate, Postsecondary Education

Zachry Rutschow leads several MDRC research projects in developmental education, adult basic education, and high school equivalency preparation. Currently, she is the lead researcher for an Institute of Education Sciences-funded evaluation of the Dana Center Mathematics Pathways, as well as a series of reports surveying the landscape of developmental education reform in the United States for the Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness. She is also a leader in MDRC’s Center for Effective Career and Technical Education and recently published two reports examining workforce readiness programs for adult populations (Beyond the Basics and College to Work). She has authored numerous reports describing programs that show promise for increasing postsecondary completion and success, including two literature reviews analyzing the most promising reforms in developmental and adult education, based on the results of rigorous research (Unlocking the Gate and Beyond the GED). Zachry Rutschow was the project director for MDRC’s evaluation of Achieving the Dream from 2007 to 2012, and in this role authored a number of reports examining the implementation, costs, and outcomes of the initiative. Before joining MDRC in 2007, Zachry Rutschow worked as a researcher and teacher in adult literacy education, and is a specialist in reading instruction. She holds an EdD and EdM in education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, a Master of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School, and a Bachelor of Arts with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia.

  • MDRC Publications


      Perspectives and Considerations for Supporting Movement Across Workforce and Academic Programs in Community Colleges

      February, 2021

      Living-wage jobs increasingly require postsecondary education, though nonacademic career and technical education can also boost earning potential. But noncredit program benefits can be limited, so some community colleges are bridging the academic-nonacademic divide. This brief describes methods and strategies for connecting and promoting noncredit and credit pathways for students.

      January, 2021
      Susan Bickerstaff, Elizabeth Kopko, Erika Lewy, Julia Raufman, Elizabeth Zachry Rutschow

      This brief from the Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness, a project of the Community College Research Center and MDRC, presents four case studies on how community college state systems changed course placement policies and supported new placement practices in the midst of the pandemic.


      A Study of a Transition Program Serving Students with Low Math Skills at a Community College

      March, 2020
      Angela Boatman, Oscar Cerna, Kayla Reiman, John Diamond, Mary Visher, Elizabeth Zachry Rutschow

      A four-week course to prepare students for developmental-level math did not attract many students who were referred to it. While some participants gained needed skills, most did not complete the course or move on to developmental math, and communication about the course among staff, faculty, advisors, and students was inconsistent.


      Findings from a National Survey and Interviews with Postsecondary Institutions

      November, 2019
      Elizabeth Zachry Rutschow, Maria Scott Cormier, Dominique Dukes, Diana E. Cruz Zamora

      This report, based on a national survey of two- and four-year colleges, examines the current state of practices in developmental education assessment, placement, instruction, and support services offered to students. Reform efforts have accelerated, but new practices still reach less than half of students.


      Findings from the Dana Center Mathematics Pathways Impact Study

      November, 2019
      Elizabeth Zachry Rutschow, Susan Sepanik, Victoria Deitch, Julia Raufman, Dominique Dukes, Adnan Moussa

      This instructional reform diversifies math course content so that it better aligns with students’ career interests. After three semesters, the reform increased developmental math students’ rates of taking and passing college-level math and accumulating math credits. Few effects have yet emerged on overall credit accumulation, degree receipt, or transfer to a four-year college.


      Integrating Workforce and College-Readiness Training into California’s Adult Basic Skills Programs

      July, 2019

      New models for adult education that integrate basic skills education with workforce and college-readiness training are catching on across the country. In this report, MDRC examines the development of these programs in California and suggests ways to expand these integrated models in adult basic skills programs across the state.


      Findings from a Study of the Career Readiness Internship Program

      June, 2019

      Work-based learning opportunities vary widely across colleges and are rarely evaluated. Through the Career Readiness Internship (CRI) program, 33 colleges provided large numbers of low-income students with valuable career-focused internship experiences, and employers generally viewed the program positively. Nevertheless, CRI was difficult to maintain after its grant period ended.


      Interim Findings on Developmental Students’ Progress to College Math with the Dana Center Mathematics Pathways

      July, 2018

      This community college reform directs remedial math students into accelerated course sequences focused on statistics or quantitative reasoning, depending on their programs of study. In a random assignment evaluation, students in the pathways group are enrolling in and passing college-level math at a higher rate than students in traditional courses.


      Lessons on Increasing College Completion from Six Talent Dividend Cities

      December, 2017
      Elizabeth Zachry Rutschow, Aurelia De La Rosa Aceves, Jessica Taketa

      The Talent Dividend competition encouraged major metro areas to find ways to boost their proportions of college graduates. The effort suggests that cross-sector partnerships and interventions that ease students’ transitions to the next level of education hold promise in aiding credit attainment and narrowing achievement gaps between groups of students.


      New Approaches to Serving the Lowest-Skilled Students at Community Colleges in Texas and Beyond

      October, 2017

      Faced with many applicants with very low math skills, community colleges are responding with a variety of reforms, including restricting developmental courses to students with high-school-level skills. This brief provides context for the policy changes and describes the alternatives two colleges offer to those who don’t make the cut.

      Issue Focus
      September, 2017

      This grant program funds semester-long paid internships for college juniors and seniors with financial needs. These part-time opportunities, typically with hourly wages of $10-$14, are intended to provide meaningful experiences connected to students’ career interests. Despite some difficulties, many students had highly positive impressions of the program overall.


      Early Findings from a Study of the Dana Center Mathematics Pathways

      May, 2017
      Elizabeth Zachry Rutschow, John Diamond, Elena Serna-Wallender

      A promising new community college intervention involves a revised developmental math course that emphasizes statistical and quantitative reasoning skills to align with students’ fields of study. In a random assignment evaluation at four schools in Texas, students report a qualitatively different experience with math instruction.


      Early Findings from the New Mathways Project

      April, 2015

      Developmental math is too often an obstacle to community college students’ success. By shifting the emphasis from “algebra for all” to math skills with broader career relevance — such as quantitative literacy and statistics — and revising course structure and sequence, this Texas-wide education reform is off to a promising start.


      Lessons from the First Round of Achieving the Dream Community Colleges

      April, 2014

      Launched in 2004, Achieving the Dream is designed to help community colleges collect and analyze student performance data and apply the results to help students succeed. This report offers lessons from the first 26 colleges to join the national initiative, which now includes more than 200 institutions.


      Promising Models for Moving High School Dropouts to College

      January, 2014
      Elizabeth Zachry Rutschow, Shane Crary-Ross

      This report examines interventions that make adult education and GED standards more rigorous, that combine academic preparation with supports for transitioning to college, or that allow students to enroll in college while earning their GED. The most promising reforms integrate basic skills and GED instruction within specific career fields and support students’ entry into college.


      An Impact Study of a Student Success Course at Guilford Technical Community College

      April, 2012

      A random assignment study of a student success course for developmental students finds positive effects on students’ self-management, self-awareness, and engagement in college. The program had few overall effects on students’ academic achievement, although there were some positive impacts for the first group of students to enter the study.


      What We Know About Improving Developmental Education

      June, 2011
      Elizabeth Zachry Rutschow, Emily Schneider

      One of the greatest challenges that community colleges face in their efforts to increase graduation rates is improving the success of students in their developmental, or remedial, education programs. Emphasizing results from experimental and quasi-experimental studies, this literature review identifies the most promising approaches for revising the structure, curriculum, or delivery of developmental education and suggests areas for future innovations in developmental education practice and research.


      Five Years of Achieving the Dream in Community Colleges

      February, 2011
      Elizabeth Zachry Rutschow, Lashawn Richburg-Hayes, Thomas Brock, Genevieve Orr, Oscar Cerna, Dan Cullinan, Monica Reid Kerrigan, Davis Jenkins, Susan Gooden, Kasey Martin

      This interim report examines the experiences of the first 26 colleges to join the ambitious Achieving the Dream initiative. Launched by Lumina Foundation for Education in 2004, Achieving the Dream helps community colleges collect and analyze student performance data in order to build a “culture of evidence,” enabling the colleges to use that knowledge to develop programs to increase students’ academic success.


      How Much Do Achieving the Dream Colleges Spend — and from What Resources — to Become Data-Driven Institutions?

      June, 2010

      This report analyzes the experiences of five community colleges that participate in Lumina Foundation’s Achieving the Dream initiative and the investments they made in implementing an institutional improvement process aimed at increasing students’ success. The report examines how, where, and with what resources these colleges supported their reforms, as well as the key activities driving their overall expenditures.


      A Case Study of an Achieving the Dream College

      September, 2009

      Achieving the Dream teaches community colleges to use student data to improve programming and student success. Since participating, Guilford Technical Community College in North Carolina has become a data-driven, success-oriented institution and has seen promising trends in student achievement. This study offers lessons for other colleges undertaking similar institutional reform.

  • Other Publications

  • Projects