Working Paper 24
English and American higher education access and completion policy regimes: similarities, differences and possible lessons
Published August 2017

Professor Kevin J. Dougherty from Columbia University and Professor Claire Callender from the UCL Institute of Education/Birkbeck College identify policy lessons from English and American higher education.

The researchers use a cross-national comparison to focus particularly on how each country could reduce social class and racial/ethnic differences in higher education access and success.

The researchers argue that for both countries, goals of widening participation in higher education by class and race/ethnicity are hampered by sharp inequalities in access to higher education, entrance into the most selective institutions, graduation from higher education, and economic success post-graduation.

The paper makes a number of policy recommendations for both England and the US.

The researchers argue that the US would benefit from following England in the use of ‘access agreements’. These govern the outreach efforts of universities, encouraging them to make more extensive efforts to reach students in secondary and primary school, and, in England, are supervised by a public non-governmental agency.

They also argue that the US should make more use of income-contingent loans, and should expand the range of information provided to prospective college students.

One of the researchers’ main recommendations for England is that the country focus more on the role of further education colleges, which have historically received little policy attention. Their other recommendations for England are:

  • scepticism about expanding the for-profit higher education sector;
  • a greater use of grant aid;
  • a greater focus on school decisions (as these shape future higher education opportunities);
  • a greater use of contextualised admissions and a reconsideration of what constitutes merit in university admission;
  • a sharpened consideration of the possible downsides of performance funding.