The first translational postsecondary education research lab in the country, which is set to launch at the University of Wisconsin, will work to find innovative ways to minimize barriers to finishing college for students of color and students from low income households.

Harvesting Opportunities for Postsecondary Education Lab will look to understand why, in Wisconsin, the chance of attending and completing college is so closely tied to family backgrounds, Sara Goldrick-Rab, UW educational policy studies and sociology professor and creator of the HOPE Lab initiative, said.

The project focuses on benefitting education on a statewide level, Goldrick-Rab said. UW faces some of these challenges, although UW students are often far more advantaged than those elsewhere in the state, she said.

The HOPE Lab will be the only one of its kind in the nation because translational research is something commonly practiced in the health field, Goldrick-Rab said. Translational research takes research and turns it into actions or vice versa, and she said they are applying these techniques from an educational standpoint.

The first major goal of the project is to find new ways to help students who are affected by financial hardship, Goldrick-Rab said.

“We are not doing this mainly as an exercise to publish in a journal. We are trying to improve lives of people across the state,” Goldrick-Rab said.

The lab will analyze different approaches that can be taken to help students. They will focus on researching which programs have been continuously used but have not made a significant impact in helping students, she said.

Researchers will use the information they gather to build new programs that are more interesting and more effective than previous techniques, Goldrick-Rab said.

The major concerns for the lab are the avenues low-income students, students of color and first-generation students can take to improve access to higher education opportunities, HOPE Lab Senior Researcher Peter Kinsley said. More importantly, the lab will seek to improve the success of those students once they become active in these institutions, he said.

While access to education in Wisconsin has expanded a little in the last 20 years, a gap still exists in terms of completion and success in college, Kinsley said. To improve these points, the group works with the UW School of Education as well as state policymakers.

While the lab focuses mainly on postsecondary education, it also uses research techniques and ideas from economics, sociology and health sciences, Kinsley said. UW has a broad range of faculty interested in interdisciplinary collaboration, which makes it advantageous as the HOPE Lab headquarters, he said.

Recently, Kingsley said HOPE Lab researchers forged a new relationship between the Madison School District and the School of Education to promote college access. As the lab grows, they will search for other ways to create similar bonds to improve outreach of the organization, he said.

Goldrick-Rab said the HOPE Lab will also help create new opportunities for people in the future.

“It gives people hope. It gives people a way to work toward the future and to try to think about what they want and how they can get there. Educated people have more resources to learn how to achieve their goals and to create secure reliance for their families,” Goldrick-Rab said.

 The lab will hold a launch reception on May 5 at 5:30 p.m. at the Madison Central Library.

Corrections were made to this article to present HOPE Lab  accurately.