WWC review of this study

The effects of expanding Pell Grant eligibility for short occupational training programs: Results from the Experimental Sites Initiative

Thomas, J., Gonzalez, N., Wiegand, A., Paxton, N., & Hebbar, L. (2021). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
     examining 
    2,684
     Students
    , grade
    PS

Reviewed: June 2021

At least one finding shows strong evidence of effectiveness
At least one statistically significant positive finding
Meets WWC standards without reservations
College enrollment outcomes—Statistically significant positive effects found
Outcome
measure
Comparison Period Sample Intervention
mean
Comparison
mean
Significant? Improvement
    index
ESSA
rating

Enrolled in any college

Expanded Pell Grant eligibility vs. Business as usual

1 Year

Experiment 1: Short-Term Training;
414 students

82.70

63.10

Yes

 
 
23
 
More Outcomes

Enrolled in any college

Expanded Pell Grant eligibility vs. Business as usual

8 Months

Experiment 2: Very Short-Term Training;
2,270 students

78.20

64.20

Yes

 
 
16
 
Show Supplemental Findings

Enrolled in Study School

Expanded Pell Grant eligibility vs. Business as usual

1 Year

Experiment 1: Short-Term Training;
414 students

77.90

51.90

Yes

 
 
26

Enrolled in a Certificate Program at Any School

Expanded Pell Grant eligibility vs. Business as usual

1 Year

Experiment 1: Short-Term Training;
414 students

48.10

31.30

Yes

 
 
17

Enrolled in Study School

Expanded Pell Grant eligibility vs. Business as usual

8 Months

Experiment 2: Very Short-Term Training;
2,270 students

66.40

51.80

Yes

 
 
14

Enrolled in a Certificate Program at Any School

Expanded Pell Grant eligibility vs. Business as usual

8 Months

Experiment 2: Very Short-Term Training;
2,270 students

56.50

48.30

Yes

 
 
8

Enrolled in An Associate's Degree Program at Any School

Expanded Pell Grant eligibility vs. Business as usual

8 Months

Experiment 2: Very Short-Term Training;
2,270 students

3.30

2.70

No

--

Enrolled in An Associate's Degree Program at Any School

Expanded Pell Grant eligibility vs. Business as usual

1 Year

Experiment 1: Short-Term Training;
414 students

4.80

5.60

No

--
Industry-recognized credential, certificate, or license outcomes—Statistically significant positive effects found
Outcome
measure
Comparison Period Sample Intervention
mean
Comparison
mean
Significant? Improvement
    index
ESSA
rating

Completed a Program at Any School

Expanded Pell Grant eligibility vs. Business as usual

30 Months

Experiment 1: Short-Term Training;
414 students

54.20

39.40

Yes

 
 
14
 
More Outcomes

Completed a Program at Any School

Expanded Pell Grant eligibility vs. Business as usual

10 Months

Experiment 2: Very Short-Term Training;
2,270 students

64.30

54.90

Yes

 
 
9
 

Completed a Program at Any School

Expanded Pell Grant eligibility vs. Business as usual

10 Months

Experiment 2: Very Short-Term Training;
2,270 students

64.30

54.90

Yes

--
Show Supplemental Findings

Completed a Certificate program at Any School

Expanded Pell Grant eligibility vs. Business as usual

30 Months

Experiment 1: Short-Term Training;
414 students

39.10

20.00

Yes

 
 
22

Completed a Program at Study School

Expanded Pell Grant eligibility vs. Business as usual

30 Months

Experiment 1: Short-Term Training;
414 students

52.40

35.60

Yes

 
 
16

Completed a Program at Study School

Expanded Pell Grant eligibility vs. Business as usual

10 Months

Experiment 2: Very Short-Term Training;
2,270 students

47.00

37.70

Yes

 
 
9

Completed a Certificate program at Any School

Expanded Pell Grant eligibility vs. Business as usual

10 Months

Experiment 2: Very Short-Term Training;
2,270 students

44.10

38.00

Yes

 
 
6

Characteristics of study sample as reported by study author.


  • Female: 41%
    Male: 60%

  • Rural, Suburban, Urban
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    Midwest, Northeast, South, West

Setting

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) piloted two experimental expansions to Pell Grant eligibility. Experiment 1 consisted of a Pell Grant offer for short-term occupational training programs (up to 1 year for full-time students and 2 years for part-time students), and Experiment 2 consisted of a Pell Grant offer for very short-term occupational training programs (8 to 15 weeks). A small number of students (78) were interested in and eligible for both experiments. The study took place in 46 postsecondary schools and programs at mostly public, two-year colleges. About half of the postsecondary schools were concentrated in the Southeast region of the country. Thirty-five schools participated in Experiment 1 and 28 schools participated in Experiment 2. Seventeen schools participated in both experiments (which is not included in the review).

Study sample

The study schools identified and randomly assigned eligible students within schools in each of the two experiments between November 2012 and March 2017. For the 35 schools that participated in Experiment 1, there were 414 students in the analysis. All the students had a bachelor’s degree, 64 percent were female, and 93 percent were independent of their parents. On average, they were 36 years of age and had a gross income of $20,670. Almost a quarter (24 percent) were already enrolled in a study school though not in the program for which they hoped to receive an experimental Pell Grant, as required by the study. For the 28 schools that participated in Experiment 2, there were 2,270 students in these analyses. About half (53 percent) had some college education, 36 percent were female, and 85 percent were independent. On average, they were 32 years of age and had a gross income of $22,451. Fourteen percent were already enrolled in a study school.

Intervention Group

Under the authority to waive federal financial aid regulations under the Experimental Sites Initiative of the Higher Education Act, the two experimental pilots waived specific eligibility rules for a limited number of postsecondary schools that volunteered to participate and randomly assigned students to the expanded Pell Grant eligible condition. Experiment 1 allowed income-eligible students with a bachelor’s degree to obtain Pell Grants for short-term occupational training programs that lasted up to one year for students enrolled full-time and up to two years for students enrolled part-time. Experiment 2 allowed income-eligible students to obtain Pell Grants for very short-term programs from eight to fifteen weeks. Only students with annual family incomes of up to about $50,000, who did not already have a bachelor’s degree, and enrolled in programs that last at least a typical semester (8 to 15 weeks) were eligible to receive the grant. Consistent with current federal aid rules, both experiments called for schools to require students to use the experimental Pell Grant for credit-earning programs leading to an educational certificate. Grant amounts were based on the program’s length and the number of credits awarded.

Comparison Group

Students in the comparison group could receive any other financial aid for which they were eligible, as determined by study schools; however, they did qualify for the experimental Pell Grant under expanded eligibility for short or very short-term occupational training.

Support for implementation

No supports for implementation were described.

 

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