Jessica Howell

Jessica Howell


Context Matters: The Importance of Environmental Information in College Admissions

September 28, 2020 (Monday)


In 1983, the National Commission on Excellence in Education published A Nation at Risk, a landmark study that laid out the shortcomings of a K-12 educational system that was failing American youth. In the more than 35 years since, income segregation across U.S. school districts has accelerated (Owens, Reardon & Jencks, 2016), and national testing metrics – including NAEP, SAT, and ACT – continue to reflect educational inequities that fall along sociodemographic lines. Research reveals that the educational fate of students living with environmental challenge is not sealed at birth, as those fortunate enough to move to more resourced neighborhoods have improved educational and life outcomes (Chetty, Hendren & Katz, 2016). We synthesize the literature on neighborhood and high school context to demonstrate how existing data sources support the creation of normative contextual metrics that supplement college applications. We illustrate how these evidence-based measures of environmental context relate to student attributes and postsecondary outcomes.

This session will focus on the utility of social and emotional learning measures, which add to the prediction of college success while exhibiting small-to-no subgroup differences, as a solution to this problem.


Jessica Howell is the Vice President of Research at the College Board, where she leads a team of roughly 30 researchers who conduct rigorous quantitative research on a wide variety of topics related to academic preparation, college access, affordability, admissions, and postsecondary and labor market outcomes. Prior to joining the College Board in 2011, Howell was an associate professor of Economics at California State University, Sacramento. Engaged in quantitative research on pressing education issues, she is primarily focused on access and success throughout the educational pipeline for different socioeconomic and racial/ethnic groups. Howell received her undergraduate degree in economics from James Madison University; her master's and doctoral degrees in Economics are from the University of Virginia.