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Rigorous Evaluation Finds OneGoal Has a Statistically Significant Impact on Students’ Life and Postsecondary Outcomes

Study shows OneGoal increases college enrollment and persistence rates by 10-20 percentage points

CHICAGO, Ill. — A rigorous evaluation by researchers at the University of Chicago demonstrates OneGoal has a statistically significant impact on low-income students in increasing college enrollment and persistence rates by 10-20 percentage points. Of the interventions targeting adolescents that have undergone rigorous evaluation, OneGoal is one of the few that has resulted in statistically significant positive impact.

“Gold standard evidence is woefully lacking in education,” Tim Knowles, Director at Urban Education Institute at The University of Chicago said. “OneGoal deserves tremendous credit for putting their stake in the ground and holding themselves accountable for results that matter.”

This quasi-experimental evaluation, “Measuring and Fostering Non-Cognitive Skills in Adolescence: Evidence from Chicago Public Schools and the OneGoal Program” was conducted by Tim Kautz of The University of Chicago’s Center for Economics of Human Development, directed by Nobel laureate James Heckman, and Wladimir Zanoni of Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.

“OneGoal is pioneering strategic interventions to enable more students to graduate from high school, enter and persist in college,” said Martha Kanter, Distinguished Visiting Professor of Higher Education at New York University and former United States Under Secretary of Education. “This landmark study documents that at-risk adolescents from economically disadvantaged backgrounds can compete and succeed in high school, ready for college and career opportunities ahead with the appropriate support from great teachers.”


Using data from CPS, the researchers studied more than 2,300 OneGoal Fellows who entered the program from the fall of 2007 to the fall of 2013 and compared outcomes with their control-group counterparts. After accounting for any pre-OneGoal characteristics that contributed to students’ success, Kautz and Zanoni’s report produced several key findings.

  • OneGoal increases college enrollment and college persistence rates
  • OneGoal improves academic indicators during high school
  • Growth in non-cognitive skill development is a factor in the positive college outcomes for OneGoal Fellows
  • Non-cognitive skills can be measured using school administrative data

“This sort of rigorous evaluation is practically unprecedented,” Angela Duckworth, Associate Professor at University of Pennsylvania notes. “It provides a stellar model for the evaluation of other programs aimed at improving youth outcomes.”

In addition to its impact on enrollment and persistence, OneGoal proved to be cost-effective. “For a fraction of the typical costs, OneGoal Program Directors and Fellows are achieving collegiate and life outcomes that prove that all young people are capable of succeeding in college,” Jeff Nelson, OneGoal Co-Founder and CEO said. “This is especially significant given the low-cost of the intervention of less than $1,000 per student per year.”

Earlier this year, Nelson joined more than 40 organizations and 100 colleges and universities for the White House College Opportunity Summit with President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. According to published reports, more than 100 new commitments have been pledged by these groups to improve college access for low-income students – OneGoal was featured as a “promising model”.

“These results are extraordinary,” Wendy Kopp, Founder & Chair of the Board, Teach For America and CEO & Co-founder, Teach For All notes. “This shows us that it isn’t too late to have a meaningful impact on students at the high school level.”

Kautz and Zanoni note three implications for their analysis. “This evaluation contributes to the knowledge of adolescent interventions in three ways. First, when compared to evaluations of other programs, it has a relatively long follow-up and considers a broader set of outcomes. Second, of the adolescent interventions that are well studied, OneGoal is one of the few that is successful. Third, we dig deeper than most evaluations of adolescent program by demonstrating that the improvements in outcomes are linked to improvements in skills.”

The study validates one measurement of non-cognitive skills. Kautz and Zanoni analyzed data that is commonly collected by schools but that is rarely used to measure non-cognitive skills, including grade point averages and attendance rates. This measure rivals, and often outperforms, test scores as a predictor of high school graduation, college enrollment, college graduation, and even arrest rates.

“This report effectively shows why the OneGoal model works and demonstrates a clear need for more strategies like it to create opportunity for America’s students,” Dan Porterfield, President of Franklin and Marshall College said. “OneGoal’s innovative approaches to the development of non-cognitive skills and a college-completion culture in low-income high school students play a major role in the nation-wide effort to ensure college access and success for students of all backgrounds.”

Only 9 percent of students from low-income communities graduate from college–and the US global ranking is a disappointing 14th when comparing the percent of 25-34 year-olds who have completed higher education.

“It’s great to see OneGoal subjecting the effectiveness of its work to rigorous examination,” Michael McPherson, Co-Author of “Crossing The Finish Line: Completing College at America’s Public Universities” notes. “That is all too rare among the many outfits that are working with high school students to promote college attendance and success.”

The one goal for OneGoal students is college graduation. Led by exceptional teachers, called Program Directors, students make transformational academic gains throughout the program – which spans junior and senior year of high school and freshman year of college – to enroll in and persist toward graduation at best-fit colleges. In addition to transforming students’ academic performance, non-cognitive skill development is a cornerstone of the model. OneGoal was profiled in acclaimed journalist and author Paul Tough’s bestseller, “How Children Succeed” last fall.

To date, 87 percent of OneGoal’s high school graduates have enrolled in college and of those who enroll, 83 percent are persisting in college or have graduated with a college degree. OneGoal has developed a scalable model for college success that works for underperforming students living in low-income communities. The lessons learned in supporting them to graduation could be distilled, shared and scaled widely for the benefit of all students in our nation.

This academic year, OneGoal will grow to serve more than 4,000 students in Chicago, Houston, and New York City. “This is progress, but not nearly enough,” Nelson said. “We must take this evidence and this model that works and grow to reach more students in this country.”

About OneGoal

Nationally, only 9 percent of students from low-income communities are expected to graduate from college.  That stands in stark contrast to the 82 percent college completion rate made by their top-income peers.  OneGoal targets historically underperforming high school students in low-income communities and empowers them to reach their full potential and graduate from college. OneGoal recruits and selects a region’s high-performing teachers – those already working in high schools in low-income communities – and provide them with the training and support to become OneGoal Program Directors and implement our three-year college success model with a cohort of Fellows, beginning in junior year of high school and continuing through the first day of sophomore year of college. OneGoal is a rapidly expanding movement dedicated to systemically changing this reality in Chicago, Houston, New York and beyond. More information about OneGoal.

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