Can existing financial aid programs do more to help low-income college students achieve academic success? MDRC is preparing to launch a large-scale evaluation of Aid Like A Paycheck, a new program based on a simple yet potentially transformative idea: after tuition and fees have been paid to the college, disburse remaining financial aid to students every other week — like a paycheck, rather than in one or two lump sums.
The goals of the program are to help students achieve a good balance between time spent on school and work, better manage their limited aid throughout the term, and think about school as a job where regular attendance and meaningful effort are rewarded. Aid Like A Paycheck could improve students’ success in college and may also hold promise for making financial aid — whether federal, state, or private — more cost-effective by ensuring that aid is distributed to students while they maintain their enrollment.
Because Aid Like A Paycheck relies on existing financial aid dollars, it can be readily scaled to affect millions of students nationally. The idea is ready to be tested rigorously to ensure that any policy that arises from it is tailored to produce the maximum academic and economic benefits for students, colleges, states, and the federal government.
This innovation grows from the Aid Success Project, a collaboration of MDRC and The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS). Since its inception in 2009, Aid Like A Paycheck has received the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and has generated keen interest from the U.S. Department of Education. Between 2010 and 2013, Triton College (Illinois) and Mt. San Antonio College (California) provided about 350 students with their aid refunds, primarily Pell Grants, in biweekly disbursements. Based on the promising implementation of Aid Like A Paycheck in this first phase (which is described in this brief), MDRC is launching a national evaluation to measure its effects.