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Program Details

Grant Program: Postsecondary and Adult Education
Contacts: Dr. Meredith Larson
(202) 245-7037

Dr. James Benson
(202) 245-8333


The Postsecondary and Adult Education (PSAE) topic supports research that will lead to better student education outcomes at the college level (most often in Associateís or Bachelorís degree programs) and in adult education programs (e.g., students in adult English language programs or adult literacy programs including Adult Basic Education, Adult Secondary Education, and GED preparation programs).

PSAE research addresses a wide range of student outcomes including student access to, persistence in, progress through, and completion of postsecondary and adult education programs as well as improving specific academic outcomes in developmental education, adult education, gateway science and math courses, and introductory composition courses.

The long-term outcome of this research is to establish an array of effective tools and strategies (e.g., practices, assessments, programs, policies) for improving education outcomes of postsecondary students and adult learners.

Between 2007–2017, NCER invested over $95 million in the PSAE topic to support 59 research projects.

Types of Projects
16 Exploration Projects
11 Development and Innovation Projects
28 Efficacy and Replication Projects
1 Effectiveness/Scale-up Project
3 Measurement Projects

The PSAE topic was first established in FY 2011. However, as early as 2006, NCER supported postsecondary and adult education research through various programs including the National Research and Development Center program and topic areas including Reading and Writing, Interventions for Struggling Adolescent and Adult Readers and Writers, Middle and High School Reform, Postsecondary, and Adult Education.

By joining the postsecondary education and adult education research foci into one topic area, NCER acknowledged the complex and sometimes overlapping paths adult learners travel when pursuing education throughout their lives. The PSAE topic is also the only NCER topic area that permits researchers to focus on typically developing students and students with disabilities as the primary population of interest. Thus, the PSAE topic allows researchers interested in academic outcomes for students with disabilities to conduct work past the transition from high school, the furthest progress point supported by NCSER grant funding.

Types of Research Supported
Researchers funded through PSAE examine the full spectrum of student outcomes in settings extending from community-based adult literacy programs to universities. Their work includes exploration, evaluation, and measurement development for topics ranging from basic cognitive processes to teacher practice and the implementation of federal policy.

The majority of projects funded through PSAE (55) have focused on postsecondary settings and students, and few (4) have focused on adult education settings and students. The plurality of the research has tested the efficacy of interventions.

graph of goals for Postsec grants

Research funded through PSAE has focused on identifying, developing and evaluating strategies for, among other things,

  • Helping students to academically prepare for college;
  • Providing college-going information and assistance to students (and their families) as they make the transition from high school to college;
  • Providing academic support at the beginning of college, through summer bridge programs and reforms to developmental education;
  • Helping students to progress through college by improving their understandings of and access to financial aid, engagement with peers and instructors, and experience with curriculum and instruction; and
  • Developing and pilot-testing interventions to improve adult literacy skills.

NCER also supports research in postsecondary and adult education through other grant programs and projects, such as the following:

R&D Centers and Network Projects (305C and 305N)

Partnership and Collaboration Projects (305H and 305L)