Can existing financial aid programs do more to help low-income college students achieve academic success? MDRC is conducting a large-scale evaluation of Aid Like A Paycheck, a new program based on a simple yet potentially transformative idea: After the college receives payment for tuition and fees, disburse remaining financial aid to students incrementally — like a paycheck — rather than in one or two lump sums.
The goals of the program are to help students strike a balance between time spent on school and working, 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, it can potentially be expanded to benefit millions of students nationally. MDRC’s rigorous evaluation of Aid Like A Paycheck will ensure that any resulting policy changes would produce the maximum academic and economic benefits for students, colleges, states, and the federal government.
This evaluation was launched as part of the Aid Success Project, a collaboration of MDRC and The Institute for College Access and Success. Since its inception in 2009, Aid Like A Paycheck has received support from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, MetLife Foundation, Houston Endowment Inc., 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 (described in this brief), MDRC is conducting a mixed-methods evaluation at San Jacinto College and the Houston Community College System (both in the Houston area), where the interim findings show mixed results. The final report, released in 2019, includes longer follow-up, as well as a look at the program’s implementation at the West Hills Community College District, in California’s Central Valley.