Promoting Innovation to Improve College Access and Completion: Testimony Submitted to the Advisory Committee on Student Financial AssistanceReportar como inadecuado

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MDRC is pleased to provide testimony on college access and completion to the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance. Access to college has increased substantially over the last 50 years, but student success--defined as the combination of academic success and degree or certificate completion--has not kept pace. Student success, moreover, generally correlates with students' financial resources: Students from high-income families attend and complete college at higher rates than low-income students. It is challenging to determine whether financial aid does in fact improve student success, because the factors associated with financial need, such as low family income, are also associated with a lack of academic success, making it difficult to isolate the effect of additional financial aid on student achievement. The authors recommend encouraging financial aid innovation paired with evaluation research, especially randomized controlled trials. This testimony focuses on: (1) Year-round financial aid: The authors describe existing research that suggests year-round financial aid could improve access and completion. They also describe strategies to test such a change rigorously before implementing it more broadly. (2) Federal Work-Study and satisfactory academic progress requirements: The authors briefly describe two other innovations that could help improve access and completion, namely, retargeting and realigning Federal Work-Study and restructuring the notification of "satisfactory academic progress" (SAP) requirements in the Pell Grant program. (3) Clarifying opportunities for innovation: The Department of Education could grant waivers more readily if innovations were paired with evaluation research and could clarify where institutions currently have flexibility that does not require a waiver. Financial aid is an important tool with great potential to improve academic success and postsecondary completion, but there is much to learn about whether new innovations will prove effective. A growing body of work, however, demonstrates that randomized controlled trials--the most reliable method to determine a program or policy's effectiveness--can be effectively applied to financial aid programs to inform policy. Using this type of rigorous evaluation is critical to ensuring that new innovations in the financial aid system are effective, before investments are made to extend new practices more broadly.

Descriptors: Access to Education, Graduation, Higher Education, Academic Achievement, Student Financial Aid, Work Study Programs, Federal Programs, Federal Aid

MDRC. 16 East 34th Street 19th Floor, New York, NY 10016-4326. Tel: 212-532-3200; Fax: 212-684-0832; e-mail: publications[at]; Web site:

Autor: Mayer, Alexander K.; Richburg-Hayes, Lashawn; Diamond, John


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