After four years of rapid growth, the Pell Grant program faces a “funding cliff” in 2014, writes Andrew P. Kelly, an American Enterprise Institute research fellow. Research student aid before trying to reform it, Kelly writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Temporary fixes won’t be enough. There are big questions to be answered.
How can scarce money be allocated more efficiently? Can reforms help more students complete college while maintaining a commitment to ensuring them access to postsecondary education?
MDRC and the nonprofit Institute for College Access and Success are studying “aid as a paycheck.” Community colleges receive their aid in regular payments, rather than getting a lump sum at the start of the term.
The Wisconsin Scholars Longitudinal Study, directed by (Sara) Goldrick-Rab, is a statewide experiment that examines the impact of a privately financed, need-based award on Pell Grant recipients at public two-year colleges. So far, results suggest that $1,000 of additional aid is associated with a two-to-four-percentage-point increase in rates of retention from the first to second year of college.
. . . the federal government is finally getting its act together. This past summer, the Department of Education announced the first-ever federal Pell Grant experiments. The program will study two changes in Pell eligibility. The first will provide bachelor’s-degree holders with access to Pell dollars to pay for vocational training. The second will enable students to access Pell dollars for shorter-term, lower-intensity programs (as short as eight weeks and a minimum of 150 clock hours) than current law allows.
It’s not enough, writes Kelly. “At $160-billion, financial aid is the most expensive higher-education strategy for promoting student attainment that we have. The least we can do is devote a fraction of that commitment to making sure it works as well as it can.”