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Evaluation of the Pell Grant Experiments Under the Experimental Sites Initiative

Contract Information

Current Status:

Data collection is underway.


September 2012 – September 2019



Contract Number:



Social Policy Research Associates
Mathematica Policy Research


Federal Pell grants are considered the foundation of higher education financial aid for low-income students. However, under current rules, otherwise income-eligible students who already have a bachelor's degree (BA) or who want to enroll in short-term (less than 15 weeks and 600 hours) programs are restricted from obtaining these grants. Given unemployment rates above 8.5 percent in 2011 and reports of unfilled openings for skilled jobs in some occupations, postsecondary institutions called for expanding Pell grants to help fill the skill training gap for low-income workers. In response, the Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA), under the Experimental Sites Initiative authorized by section 487A(b) of the Higher Education Act of 1965, is conducting demonstrations to test the impacts of eliminating the BA restriction (Experiment #1) and significantly lowering the minimum clock hours/duration restriction (Experiment #2) for students interested in vocational training in high-demand fields. The Institute of Education Sciences designed and is overseeing a rigorous evaluation of these experiments.

  • Does expanding Pell grant eligibility to include income-eligible students with a bachelor's degree (Experiment #1) and/or to cover shorter-term programs (Experiment #2) improve access to job training?
  • Does expanding Pell grant eligibility to these groups affect financial aid receipt and/or student debt?
  • Do these two Pell grant experiments improve persistence and completion rates?
  • Is there any evidence of an impact on employment and earnings?

Close to 50 higher education institutions that chose to participate have identified nearly 3,000 students eligible for the experiments between the 2012-2013 and 2016-2017 financial aid award years. Students were randomly assigned to receive a Pell grant or not to receive a Pell grant in their financial aid package. Student administrative data from participating higher education institutions are being collected in the fall of 2016, 2017, and 2018 to allow for the maximum number of study participants to complete their programs. Data collection also includes student administrative records on financial aid receipt from the Office of Federal Student Aid and, potentially, earnings data from the Social Security Administration. These data will be analyzed to address the four research questions.

Key findings will be available after the study report is published.

The report for the study is expected in early fall 2020 and will be announced