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Student Flow Model


The college-completion agenda is based on the premise that higher education produces both personal and public financial benefits, stimulating economic prosperity for individuals and communities.

Topics Challenges Approach Impacts


In partnership with the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), NCHEMS set out in 2012 to investigate this premise by estimating monetary returns to the US as a whole and to each of the 50 states as a result of increasing the numbers of college graduates they produce. The results confirmed the strong relationships between education, income, and public economic strength that is at the core of all of college attainment goals at the national and state levels.

The model also sought to provide states with insights about where investments would yield the greatest benefits by providing estimates for how many more degrees and certificates are produced based on changing the underlying rates of enrollment and completion.

Since the completion of this project, NCHEMS regularly updates the modeling with new or better data and incorporates the modeling into its work with states, systems, and institutions.


States seeking to reach their educational attainment targets need to have realistic plans for how they will achieve them by focusing their interventions where they will have the best returns. A strategy that seeks to improve statewide performance in all possible areas is unlikely to be successful. The Student Flow Model offers a data-informed simulation tool that allows states to explore alternative scenarios and encourages them to identify strategic opportunities for investment.

Like any simulation, the Student Flow Model depends on a series of assumptions. Though they are based on the best available data, these assumptions potentially obscure important variations across institutions that would affect output.


NCHEMS’ Student Flow Model is but one example of the ways in which it uses simulations to estimate the impact of policy changes or investments. It combines data on actual performance with trends in population changes to generate strategies that have the best likelihood of success. NCHEMS regularly uses the model as an element of its strategic planning engagements with states, and has customized it where appropriate—sometimes to examine substate or institutional level changes.


The Student Flow Model has been used by numerous states in the years since it was first created. The model has also been enhanced with new data and customized for application in multiple states, some of which have made it a central part of a public- and policymaker-facing website to assess possible strategic opportunities and to track progress. More recent versions of the model are more capable at assessing how closing racial/ethnic gaps in educational opportunity, success, and attainment will help states reach their goals. The model also has been used to develop educational attainment targets for regions within California and Michigan.