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IES Grant

Title: Evaluating Incentives for Full-time Enrollment at California Community Colleges
Center: NCER Year: 2018
Principal Investigator: Martorell, Francisco Awardee: University of California, Davis
Program: Postsecondary and Adult Education      [Program Details]
Award Period: 5 years (09/01/2018 – 08/31/2023) Award Amount: $3,300,000
Type: Efficacy and Replication Award Number: R305A180227

Co-Principal Investigators: Carrell, Scott E.; Kurlaender, Michal

Purpose: Researchers will assess the efficacy of two supplements to California's financial aid program for community college students (Cal Grant B) that intend to encourage full-time enrollment and timely degree completion. Although most community college credential and degree programs require a maximum of two years of coursework, students often take almost twice that long to complete their programs. Moreover, a significant proportion of students who enroll in community college never complete a credential or transfer to a university. Relatively little is known about the role that financial aid can play in facilitating degree completion and timely degree completion. Researchers will exploit a significant increase in aid, available to students through the Cal Grant B program beginning in the 2017–18 academic year, to estimate the impact of additional financial aid on community college students' academic progress and success. In addition, researchers will survey students and college administrators to understand how students are making use of the additional aid.

Project Activities: Researchers will begin by initiating data-use agreements for the necessary administrative data for tracking program eligibility and postsecondary outcomes for students who entered a California community college between 2008–09 and 2021–22. Analysis of outcomes for the earlier cohorts will begin during year 1. During year 2, the research team will conduct a representative survey of students in the California Community College (CCC) system. During years 3–5 of the project, researchers will code and analyze aid impacts for all cohorts through the 2021–22 academic year, compare findings across cohorts, and synthesize findings from the quantitative and qualitative analyses.

Products: The research team will disseminate its findings to California policymakers through Wheelhouse, a resource and innovation center for California community college leaders, and Policy Analysis for California Education, an independent research center committed to improving all levels of education in California. The team will produce an early report on student participation in and responses to financial aid and a comprehensive final research report on impacts of the supplements to Cal Grant B.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This study will take place across all California community colleges.

Sample: The sample includes recent high school graduates who applied for a California financial aid program and entered a California community college or state university between 2008–09 and 2021–2022.

Intervention: The Cal Grant B financial aid program includes two supplementary aid sources, both intending to incentivize full-time enrollment while reducing the cost for low-income students to access postsecondary education. The Full-Time Student Success Grant (FTSSG) provides income-eligible students with an additional $1000 per year in grant aid, conditional upon enrollment in 12 or more credits per semester and maintenance of a 2.0 or higher GPA. The Community College Completion Grant (CCCG) provides students who receive the FTSSG with an additional $750 per semester if they enroll in 15 more credits that align with an approved Student Educational Plan (SEP), and (for students beyond their first semester) completed 15 credits in the previous semester. Because Cal Grant B recipients do not pay community college tuition, their grant awards go entirely toward meeting access costs including books and academic supplies, transportation costs, and living expenses. By stacking the maximum Cal Grant B award of $1672 per year with the FTSSG and CCCG, eligible students have access to a total yearly award amount of $4172 in addition to funds that they receive through the federal Pell grant program. This total maximum award amount is an increase of $1900 over the previous maximum award ($2272).

Research Design and Methods: A sequence of regression discontinuity (RD) analyses feed into an over-arching "difference-in-discontinuities" analysis. For each cohort entering a CCC from 2008–09 through 2021-22, researchers will employ an RD model to estimate the impacts of Cal Grant B eligibility and receipt on access, persistence, and degree completion outcomes. The first set of models will yield annual intent-to-treat and treatment-on-the-treated estimates of Cal Grant B policy impact for students whose family income falls within close range of the income cutoff that determines receipt/non-receipt of the grant. These annual estimates will serve as the basis for carrying out the difference-in-discontinuities analysis, which will assess whether significant changes in policy impacts resulted from the increases to Cal Grant B aid instituted during the 2017-18 academic year. This analysis will proceed in similar fashion to a comparative time series in which the outcomes of interest are the impacts of aid eligibility (or receipt) on postsecondary outcomes, with fall 2017 serving as the interruption point. A significant difference in discontinuities at this time point would indicate a significant change in the impact of the Cal Grant B policy.

Control Condition: Students above the income eligibility cutoff for the Cal Grant B awards will serve as the control group.

Key Measures: The research team will use family income data to code measures of eligibility for Cal Grant B aid. High school test scores and indicators of student demographic characteristics will ensure that students in the treatment and control conditions are equivalent on observable characteristics. Researchers will code college transcript data into: short-run outcomes measures including first-semester enrollment, first-year GPA, and first-year college credits; medium-run persistence outcomes indicating timely progress toward degree completion or transfer; and long-run outcome measures tracking total credits earned;and degree;completion within 6 years.

Data Analysis Strategy: The research team will employ a series of cohort-specific RD models within a broader interrupted time series model focusing on the 2017–18 academic year as the interruption point. The models will employ the Cal Grant B eligibility cutoffs in a standard econometric RD model to estimate relations between aid and each of the postsecondary outcomes of interest. Diagnostic analyses will assess whether the data are consistent with RD modeling assumptions by probing for changes in patterns of income and demographic characteristics around the aid eligibility cutoff point. After using the RD model to generate aid impact estimates for all outcomes of interest, researchers will import these estimates into an interrupted time series model to execute a "difference-in-discontinuities" analysis that compares aid impacts across years. They will conduct additional sensitivity analyses to assess whether estimated aid impacts could plausibly be explained by factors other than aid.