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Jana Wilson
School of Public and Environmental Affairs

Steve Hinnefeld
University Communications

Last modified: Monday, February 7, 2011

IU researcher awarded funding to study impact of foreclosure on students

Feb. 7, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University faculty member Ashlyn Aiko Nelson and a team of researchers from three other universities have been awarded an $800,000 grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to study the impact of home foreclosure on student performance in school.

The project is one of nine being funded by the MacArthur Foundation to explore the role housing plays in the long-term health and well-being of children. The foundation announced today that it was awarding $5.6 million for the projects, which will mine and connect existing data sets in new ways to reveal insights into the effectiveness of housing policies and related public programs.

Nelson, an assistant professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IU Bloomington, will work with colleagues at New York University, Northwestern University and the University of Connecticut to examine the relationship between experiencing foreclosure and student outcomes such as attendance, test scores, graduation rates and disciplinary measures.

"We know from previous research that mobility can have a negative effect on student performance," Nelson said. "But we don't really know the cause of the problem -- whether it has to do with changing schools and teachers, being taken away from friends and peer groups, family instability or something else. This study should provide better understanding of these factors and may suggest policies that can mitigate the effects of residential displacement on student learning."

The study, funded for three years, will focus on areas that have been hit hard by the housing and foreclosure crisis: Fresno and San Diego, Calif., Pinellas County, Fla., and New York City. In both San Diego and Pinellas County, for example, average home values declined by more than 40 percent in a three-year period, and 4 percent of homes underwent foreclosure in 2009.

By matching data on housing foreclosures with individual student records, the researchers will test whether and how housing instability affects the students' educational outcomes. Along with comparing outcomes for students who experienced instability with those who did not, they will use various strategies to better understand the mechanisms by which housing instability affects learning.

The results should help policymakers decide how to intervene in housing markets or tailor education policies to minimize negative effects on students. Investigators, in addition to Nelson, include Vicki Been, Ingrid Gould Ellen, Amy Ellen Schwartz and Leanna Stiefel at New York University; David Figlio at Northwestern University; and Stephen L. Ross at the University of Connecticut.

The nine projects funded by the MacArthur Foundation were selected through a competitive process from a pool of 150 applicants as part of the foundation's $25 million initiative on How Housing Matters to Families and Communities.

"MacArthur's support for these research efforts will arm policymakers, housing and social service providers with evidence about the long-term implications of housing programs and policies," said Michael Stegman, MacArthur's director of policy and housing. "The awardees have gained unprecedented access to data sets that have never before been integrated and analyzed. We expect their findings to provide powerful information for policymakers and the public to make sound decisions about the future of housing and social policy in this country."

A first set of grants was awarded in December 2009. More detailed descriptions of the newly announced and previously awarded grants are available at the MacArthur Foundation website.

To speak with Nelson, contact Jana Wilson at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, 812-856-5490 or; or Steve Hinnefeld at the Office of University Communications, 812-856-3488 or