Harris awarded $3 million IES grant to study new approach to college financial aid

June 19, 2013

CONTACT: Douglas N. Harris, dharri5@tulane.edu

MADISON — Douglas Harris, Tulane University economics professor and longtime affiliate of the Institute for Research on Poverty (IRP) at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, working in partnership with Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), has won a grant for $3 million from the Institute of Education Sciences, a branch of the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE).

The grant will support an evaluation of the efficacy of The Degree Project, a program that has provided scholarship funding to a large group of MPS ninth graders in 2011. The goal of the study is to improve the higher-education outcomes of disadvantaged students who receive college scholarships.

Traditional grant and loan programs such as Pell grants wait to inform students about grants and loans until after they are leaving high school—when many are already off track. Compared to these "late commitments" aid programs, the objective of The Degree Project and other "early commitment" programs is to encourage students to improve their academic preparation and social capital during high school, so they are better prepared for the social and financial challenges they face on the way to and through college.

While many early commitment scholarships have been instituted nationwide, and these have received broad attention in the New York Times and other national media, this is the first randomized trial of the program in the United States to test their effects.

With this USDOE grant, and with the support of the Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation and Affiliates that has committed up to $30 million to fund the scholarships, Harris and his team will test the program's efficacy in influencing students in the Milwaukee Public Schools during high school and into college and seek to understand how and why the program works.

Given that traditional late commitment aid programs spend more than $100 billion annually, the results of this experiment could have a significant impact on the policy landscape for promise programs and financial aid more generally.