Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

Have a Cost Analysis to Plan or Execute? We Have a Module for That

This blog is part of a guest series by the Cost Analysis in Practice (CAP) project team.

Analyzing an intervention’s costs is one of IES’s nine SEER principles. Cost analysis is not just about the dollar value of an intervention; it provides key information to education decision-makers about the personnel, materials, facilities, and other inputs needed to implement an intervention or policy with fidelity. But planning and executing any kind of economic evaluation, such as a cost analysis or cost-effectiveness analysis, involves many steps.

The IES-funded Cost Analysis in Practice Project (CAP Project) has developed a series of five free, online modules on cost analysis. Each module includes a sequence of short videos (3‑17 minutes each) and resources to facilitate each of the 4 main stages of a cost analysis: study design, data collection, data analysis, and reporting (register here for the CAP Project online modules).

The modules are timely for anyone submitting a grant application to the IES FY 2024 grant programs that require a cost analysis. In addition, cost studies are included in the Education Innovation and Research (EIR) Mid-phase or Expansion grants. For your grant application, you’ll likely only need parts of Modules 1 and 2, Introduction to Cost Analysis and Designing a Cost Analysis. You can save the rest for when you receive a grant.

You should review the IES Request for Applications (RFA) to determine what kind of economic evaluation, if any, is required for your IES application. You can also review the CAP Project’s RFA requirements chart, which summarizes our take on what is required and what is recommended for each IES RFA. If your grant application does not require a cost analysis but you want to include one, we created a flowchart to help you decide which type of evaluation might make sense for your situation: see Module 1 Video 2b. We also provide a brief example of each kind of economic evaluation in Module 1 Video 3. 

If cost analysis is new to you, Module 1 Video 1 explains what “costs” really are. Module 1 Video 2a introduces the ingredients method and a demonstration of why it’s important to differentiate between economic costs and expenditures. Module 1 Video 4 walks you through the four stages of a cost analysis and points out when to use specific CAP Project resources such as our Checklist for Cost Analysis Plans, Timeline of Activities for Cost Analysis, and Cost Analysis Templates (the “CAPCATs”). If you prefer reading to watching videos, our Cost Analysis Standards & Guidelines cover this ground in more depth.

When you’re ready to plan your cost or cost-effectiveness analysis, head to Module 2. The introductory video (Module 2 Video 1) discusses a few critical decisions you need to make early on that will affect how much of your study budget should be dedicated to the economic evaluation—no one likes surprises there. Module 2 Videos 2 and 3 walk you through the design of an economic evaluation, illustrating each design feature using Reading Recovery as an example. Module 2 Video 4 presents a few scenarios to help you think about which costs you will estimate and how the costs of the intervention you plan to study compare to the costs of business as usual. Module 2 Video 5 reviews a timeline and key activities for each stage of your economic evaluation. The content in Modules 1 and 2 should help you develop a robust plan for an economic evaluation so that you’ll be all set to begin the study as soon as you are funded.

Modules 3-5 cover data collection, analysis, and reporting. You may want to skim these now, or at least watch the brief introductory videos for an overview of what’s in store for you and your cost analyst. These modules can help you execute your cost study.

Fiona Hollands is the Founder & Managing Director of EdResearcher. She studies the effectiveness and costs of educational programs with the goal of helping education practitioners and policymakers optimize the use of resources in education to promote better student outcomes.

Jaunelle Pratt-Williams is a Senior Research Scientist at NORC at the University of Chicago. She leads economic evaluations and mixed-methods policy research studies to improve the educational opportunities for historically underserved students.

This blog was produced by Allen Ruby (, Associate Commissioner, NCER.

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