Ideas and Evidence 2021

MDRC is dedicated to learning what works to improve the well-being of people in poverty.

As new policymakers prepare to govern in 2021, we provide them with fact-based research and analysis to help them address critical issues in social policy and education.

08/2021 | Alyssa Ratledge

In this commentary, originally published in The Hill, MDRC’s Alyssa Ratledge highlights the value of postsecondary institutions in rural communities and describes innovations that rural colleges have developed during the pandemic that could be expanded with more support.

09/2021 | Alexander Mayer, Catherine Brown

In this commentary, originally published by The Hechinger Report, MDRC’s Alex Mayer and Catherine Brown from The Institute for College Access & Success explain how research shows that investing in comprehensive student support programs can increase college graduation rates.

06/2021 | Meghan McCormick, Shira Kolnik Mattera

In this commentary originally published by New America, Meghan McCormick and Shira Mattera describe how investing greater resources in community-based programs will be critical for building an equitable universal pre-K system that provides high-quality experiences to all children.

06/2021 | Shira Kolnik Mattera, Ximena Portilla

In this commentary, which originally appeared in Early Learning Nation, MDRC’s Shira Mattera and Ximena Portilla suggest three important investments that states, districts, and programs can make to support high-quality teaching in early education settings.

06/2021 | Meghan McCormick, Teresa Eckrich Sommer, Terri Sabol, JoAnn Hsueh

In this commentary originally published in Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity, two MDRC researchers and their colleagues describe how Head Start programs can invest federal relief funds to help parents of children in Head Start advance toward their economic goals.

05/2021 | Alyssa Ratledge

In this commentary, originally published in Community College Daily, MDRC’s Alyssa Ratledge draws on years of research to make the case for the importance of adding robust support services to free tuition programs at community colleges.

03/2021 | Cynthia Miller, Lawrence F. Katz

In this commentary originally published in The Hill, MDRC’s Cynthia Miller and Lawrence Katz, Harvard economist and member of MDRC’s Board, describe why expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income workers without dependent children can be an effective part of the recovery effort.

The Case for Investing Pandemic Relief Funds in Pre-K and Kindergarten Summer Programs

04/2021 | Meghan McCormick, Amena Sengal

In this commentary originally published by New America, Meghan McCormick and Amena Sengal argue that states and districts should allocate some pandemic relief dollars to strengthening summer learning for pre-k and kindergarten students.

Using Existing Services During the Pandemic

03/2021 | Helen Lee

Many families with young children experienced severe strains during the pandemic—unemployment, increasing poverty, and increased anxiety and depression. State program administrators can help by strengthening home visiting services and using pediatric visits to reach families. This brief offers recommendations based on evidence of promising strategies, and insights from MDRC’s work.

03/2021 | Meghan McCormick, Christina Weiland

In this commentary originally published by New America, Meghan McCormick and Christina Weiland argue that states should make investing in high-quality early childhood and kindergarten programs a priority in their pandemic recovery efforts.

03/2021 | Nandita Verma

For over 20 years, MDRC has designed and evaluated strategies that use the housing subsidy system to support economic self-sufficiency. This memo reviews what is known about these strategies, how people respond to them, and what elements should be considered when designing economic mobility programs for families receiving housing assistance.

02/2021 | Clinton Key

Some estimate that the expansion of the Child Tax Credit could help ameliorate the economic impact of the pandemic and, if made permanent, cut child poverty in the United States in half. But to achieve the promise of these estimates, policymakers should improve the design and delivery compared to the current child tax credit to minimize burdens and barriers for recipients. Here are four research-backed ways to do it.

Research-Based Advice for Community College Administrators

12/2020 | Andrea Vasquez

Two decades of MDRC research shows that a holistic counseling strategy that reduces adviser caseloads and offers students more frequent, comprehensive guidance can help them address both academic and personal issues and improve college outcomes. This paper provides lessons for higher education professionals interested in implementing this approach.


In this three-minute video, Meghan McCormick, an MDRC research associate, describes evidence-based ways to promote equitable access to early care and education programs, a challenge made more urgent by the pandemic.

12/2020 | Virginia Knox

In this commentary originally published in Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity, MDRC President Virginia Knox explains that public and philanthropic investments have built a foundation of evidence that can inform decision makers as they work to build economic mobility and reduce inequality.

11/2020 | Michelle Maier

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, early care and education providers faced challenges attracting and retaining qualified, well-trained, and diverse early educators — and staff turnover can affect children’s early progress. Three approaches may help improve these workers’ access to professional education, their overall economic well-being, and their sometimes difficult working conditions.

11/2020 | Dan Bloom

In this commentary originally published in Government Executive, MDRC Senior Vice President Dan Bloom argues that the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that it’s important for decisionmakers to make bold policy reforms and to build evidence for future action at the same time.

11/2020 | Alexander Mayer, Kate Tromble

A college degree remains critical to unlocking opportunity and to accessing America’s middle class, yet millions of students who pursue higher education never earn degrees. This memo, produced with Results for America, draws lessons and policy implications from two decades of rigorous research in postsecondary institutions focused on addressing this problem.

Meeting the Needs of Workers and Employers

11/2020 | Kelsey Schaberg

Low-wage workers have been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, experiencing greater levels of unemployment than their higher-wage-earning peers. Training programs that focus on moving workers into skilled jobs in industries with strong local demand could reposition them for 21st-century success.

Career and Technical Education Connects the Dots

10/2020 | Rachel Rosen

The economic recession triggered by the global pandemic has magnified the need for high-quality programs that can help students acquire the skills, training, and postsecondary credentials they need to thrive in the workplace. Here are some programs that studies show improved academic outcomes and increased earnings.

What States and Colleges Need to Know

10/2020 | Alyssa Ratledge

Colleges, researchers, and advocates believe innovation and change are needed in developmental (remedial) education, because developmental courses have low success rates and because many of their students ultimately drop out. This brief summarizes research on developmental education and provides summaries of findings and implications for state and college practices.

10/2020 | Meghan McCormick

Children in low-income communities are less likely than others to attend programs that improve kindergarten readiness. MDRC has identified two ways to promote more equitable access: Make information about existing high-quality programs easier to understand and improve quality by investing in curricula and professional development.