Swarthmore Economics Professor Receives National Public Policy Award
Robinson Hollister, Joseph Wharton Professor of Economics at Swarthmore College, received the Peter H. Rossi Award from the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM) at their meetings on Nov. 2 in Madison, Wisc. The Rossi Award honors the lifetime achievements of the late Peter Rossi, a prominent sociologist. The award is given to the designee in recognition of contributions to the theory and/or practice of program evaluation.
Hollister was praised for his major contributions in the field with primary emphasis on the use of random assignment designs to test the impact of new social policies. Random assignment experiments, like those in clinical drug trials, permit unambiguous tracing of causality from the social policy being tested to its impacts. Hollister played a role in applying this technique toward the understanding of the cost effectiveness of job training and public employment programs, income transfer programs and welfare reform, community health initiatives, educational and child care initiatives, and community development financial institutions. In addition, he has written extensively on methodological issues related to program evaluation, with a special emphasis on random assignment studies, econometric approaches intended to correct selection biases, and the evaluation of community-wide initiatives. His work was recognized "in all cases, as being at the scientific frontier, balanced, and reflecting good judgment about where it is appropriate to devote substantial resources to program evaluation and where it is not." Hollister was also lauded as "a devoted teacher who has introduced generations of students to the intellectual challenges related to program evaluation with many former students who are now prominent professionals in the field."
Hollister also taught at Williams College and the University of Wisconsin in the Department of Economics and the Institute for Research on Poverty. He joined the faculty of Swarthmore College in 1971 and has taught there since.
Hollister joined the War on Poverty effort in 1966 as a staff economist in the U. S. Office of Economic Opportunity, later becoming its chief of research and plans. There he played a major role in creating, implementing and analyzing the first large-scale social experiment using random assignment, the New Jersey Negative Income Tax. Subsequently he worked with the Ford Foundation on developing the National Supported Work Demonstration, testing, in 14 cities across the nation, a direct employment program for ex-addicts, ex-offenders, women on welfare, and low-income youth. Hollister was co-principal investigator for that evaluation, which took five years to complete.
From 1983 to 1985, Hollister was chairman of the Committee on Youth Employment Programs of the National Academy of Sciences. He worked for the Rockefeller Foundation from 1984 to 1993 on the Minority Female Single Parent project, an employment training effort for minority female single parents and with the New Hope Project, an experiment that sought to test benefits designed to "make work pay." He chaired the Advisory Board for the Evaluation of the Health Link Project, which was an intervention that attempted to help women and youth prisoners exiting the Riker's Island jail in New York City. He has also begun work with Swarthmore colleague, John Caskey, in a new area, the assessment of community development financial institutions and the study of methods for evaluating the social impact of these community development financial institutions.
Most recently, Hollister has worked on evaluations in the field of education and as a consultant to the Institute for Education Science of the U.S. Department of Education, assisting its efforts to bring experimental design assessments into many areas of educational programming and training. Hollister currently is completing a book, Nectar of the Gods: Social Experiments and their Flawed Alternatives.