Open enrollment pays off, say Grawemeyer education award winners

Paul Attewell and David Lavin, both sociology professors at City University of New York’s Graduate Center, were selected for the prize from among 14 nominations worldwide.

In their award-winning 2007 book, Passing the Torch: Does Higher Education for the Disadvantaged Pay Off Across the Generations? Attewell and Lavin tracked nearly 2,000 disadvantaged women who entered CUNY through open enrollment in the early 1970s. When they interviewed the women three decades later, they found more than 70 percent had graduated and boosted their income, and that their children also had better educational success.

Data from a U.S. Department of Labor study tracking the effects of college attendance on several thousand women from 1979 to 1999 supported their findings.

Study participants were selected to equally represent whites, blacks and Hispanics. The researchers calculated that the annual dollar benefit to each woman averaged about $9,700 for whites, $5,000 for blacks and $7,900 for Hispanics.

“The study shows that opening college to disadvantaged students doesn’t lessen the value of degrees or hurt institutions of higher education as some have feared,” said Bill Bush, a UofL professor of education who directs the award. “In fact, it shows quite the opposite.”

The Grawemeyer Awards at UofL annually awards $1 million — $200,000 each — for outstanding works in music composition, ideas improving world order, psychology, education and religion. Winners of the other Grawemeyer Awards are being introduced this week.

About Paul Attewell

Paul Attewell, a professor of sociology and urban education at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center, has spent his career addressing public policy dilemmas in education.

Besides studying the effects of open enrollment at colleges, he has researched the policy of requiring more advanced coursework from high school students and whether remedial education works for college students. His work has been supported by grants from the National Science, Ford, Andrew Mellon and Spencer foundations.

From 1979 to 1983, he taught at the University of California-Santa Cruz and from 1983 to 1990, at the State University of New York, Stony Brook. The year before joining CUNY, he was a visiting professor at Stern Graduate School of Business at New York University.

Attewell earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from University College at the University of London in 1971 and his doctorate in sociology from the University of California-San Diego in 1978. In 1978 and 1979, he was a National Institute of Mental Health post-doctoral fellow at the University of California-Berkeley.

About David Lavin

David Lavin, a sociology professor at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center, has spent much of his career focusing on open enrollment and the impact that higher education has on disadvantaged families.

Lavin, who also teaches at CUNY’s Lehman College, began his career as a research fellow in social relations at Harvard University from 1960 to 1962. From 1962 to 1970, he taught at the University of Pennsylvania. In the year before joining CUNY, he was a visiting associate professor of sociology at Columbia University.

Since 1971, he has completed 14 research grants and projects about open enrollment, mostly related to the procedures in place at CUNY in the 1970s. He also has co-written three books and a half-dozen articles on the topic dating back to 1979. His research has been funded by the Spencer, Ford, Mellon and Exxon Education foundations.

He earned his bachelor’s degree from Colby College in 1953, his master’s degree in sociology and social psychology from New York University in 1955, and his doctorate in sociology from New York University in 1960.

For more information, contact Bill Bush at 502-852-0590 or by e-mail.

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