This study has been completed.
September 2012 – December 2020
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, conducted 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 occupational training in high-demand fields. The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) designed and is overseeing a rigorous evaluation of these experiments.
Between the 2012 and 2017 award years, 46 postsecondary institutions volunteered to participate and identified nearly 3,000 students eligible for the experiments. Students were randomly assigned to be offered or not offered experimental Pell Grant funds in their financial aid package. Student administrative data on program enrollment and completion were collected from participating postsecondary institutions between 2016 and 2018. Data collection also included student administrative records on financial aid receipt from the Office of Federal Student. These data will be analyzed to address the research questions.
Questions about the labor market returns from the two experiments and how these compare to the cost of expanding Pell Grant eligibility—about $1,800 per student in this study—remain unanswered, as employment and wage data could not be accessed during the study period. These important questions could be explored in the future.
A report, titled The Effects of Expanding Pell Grant Eligibility for Short Occupational Training Programs: Results from the Experimental Sites Initiative, was released in December 2020.