Two strategies will be explored:
Strategy #1: Working Smart
An interactive, online session has been developed to inform students about the inverse relationship between hours of work and college completion and to encourage them to keep employment under 20 hours per week while in school. The online session also makes students aware of the financial aid options that are available to them and explains the difference between federal and private loans.
Strategy #2: Aid Like a Paycheck
Students who receive need-based grants typically receive their funding in one or two lump sums during the semester. For Aid Like a Paycheck, we are exploring disbursing aid more evenly throughout the semester, more like a paycheck and less like a windfall, to help students budget and manage their expenses. The idea is to reduce the likelihood that students will spend their grant money too quickly and end up dropping classes or cutting back on study time in favor of additional work.
The Aid Success Project will target low-income students attending selected community colleges in several states, including California and Illinois. During a pilot phase, approximately 900 students will be served. A formative evaluation will be conducted to determine whether the strategies are operationally feasible and appear beneficial for students. MDRC and TICAS will issue a report on the findings from the pilot phase in early 2012.
If the pilot phase suggests that the strategies are helpful to students, MDRC and TICAS may propose a more rigorous evaluation involving random assignment of students to program and control groups to determine the impact of the strategies on students’ academic progress and achievement, persistence, graduation, indebtedness, and other measures. The findings will be used to inform federal and state policy decisions involving financial aid and will also help community colleges, and possibly four-year institutions, to structure their financial aid counseling and distribution practices so that as many eligible students as possible are applying for, receiving, and effectively using the aid that is available to them.