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IES Grant

Title: Does Federal Work-Study Work for Students? Evidence From a Randomized Controlled Trial
Center: NCER Year: 2020
Principal Investigator: Scott-Clayton, Judith Awardee: Teachers College, Columbia University
Program: Postsecondary and Adult Education      [Program Details]
Award Period: 5 years (09/01/2020 - 08/31/2025) Award Amount: $2,782,727
Type: Efficacy Award Number: R305A200250

Co-Principal Investigators: Soliz, Adela; Brock, Thomas

Purpose: The purpose of this project is to evaluate the impact of receiving a federal work-study (FWS) offer on outcomes for low-income undergraduate aid applicants at a large, urban public college system. The FWS program is one of the oldest federal policy tools intended to promote college access and persistence for low-income students. The program serves approximately 1 in 10 college students at a cost of nearly $1 billion annually, yet it has never been rigorously evaluated.

Project Activities: Researchers will use a randomized control trial (RCT) to examine the impact of receiving an FWS offer on low-income undergraduate aid applicants. They will also carry out an in-depth implementation and cost study, drawing upon administrator interviews, student focus groups, and a student survey, in addition to administrative data on the nature and quality of FWS jobs on campus.

Products: Researchers will produce interim implementation and cost briefs and final impact and cost-effectiveness reports.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The setting for this study is a large, urban public college system in the northeast comprised of 18 undergraduate campuses, including community colleges (7) and 4-year colleges (11).

Sample: Researchers will identify low-income aid applicants and will create a sample of at least of 7,200 students across the study. Researchers will engage 6 campuses for the in-depth implementation and cost studies.

Intervention: The FWS program as implemented in this urban system includes up to $4,000 in financial support to students as compensation for on-campus employment.

Research Design and Methods: Researchers will evaluate the FWS program using an RCT. The study’s timeframe will allow the research team to gather data up to 5 years after the initial cohort is randomized, with all cohorts followed for at least 3 years. Using primarily administrative data, researchers will estimate both the intent-to-treat (ITT) effect of receiving an FWS offer and the treatment-on-the-treated (TOT) effect of FWS participation on both confirmatory and exploratory outcomes. They will also conduct qualitative fieldwork, including administrator interviews and student focus groups, at six campuses in the first part of the study for an implementation study and cost analysis to better understand how the operation of FWS varies at the campus level and how students make decisions about work. To capture a wider range of student perspectives, in the second part of the study, they will field a student survey to both treatment and control group students.

Control Condition: The control condition will be no centralized FWS offer.

Key Measures: Confirmatory, or primary, outcomes include year-to-year persistence, and degree completion or transfer in the third year after randomization. Exploratory, or secondary, outcomes include student borrowing and total aid received, enrollment intensity, grade point average, credit accumulation, as well as measures of employment and earnings during and after enrollment.

Data Analytic Strategy: Researchers will use ordinary least squares regression (OLS) to estimate the ITT and a two-stage least squares approach to estimate the TOT effects of the intervention. The research team will analyze the qualitative and survey data using descriptive methods including analytic coding and OLS regression.

Cost Analysis: The cost analysis will use the ingredients method to calculate how much it costs colleges to administer the FWS program. The cost-effectiveness analysis will assess the efficiency of FWS from college-level and federal perspectives.