Could Connecting Students with Financial Aid Lead to Better College Outcomes? A Proposal to Test the Effectiveness of FAFSA Interventions Using the NPSAS Sample
Topic/Goal: Postsecondary and Adult Education Topic/ Goal Three (Efficacy)
Purpose: Only half of college students complete their degrees, and many are unaware or confused about how to get financial aid. We propose an Efficacy Study that will focus on key problems related to lack of awareness about financial aid (i) eligibility, (ii) application procedures, and (iii) award rules. We propose to implement a set of interventions to help students recognize and access the financial resources available to them, hypothesizing that better information will maximize the financial aid resources students have and thereby improve student persistence and eventual degree completion. Our project aims to proactively send students information relevant to their specific situations. If proven beneficial, the interventions could be widely replicated based on information that is already available in federal and institutional databases. Additionally, we hope to contribute to the research literature by investigating not only what behaviors could be influenced with better information but also how the framing and content of that information might be important.
Setting: We propose to use the subsample of students from the NPSAS:16 who are at broad-access or open-admissions institutions. As with the overall design of the NPSAS, the subsample will be a nationally-representative set of non-selective institutions and students spread across the country and urban/rural settings.
Population/Sample: We focus on a subsample of NPSAS16 undergraduates who are were their first and second years of college and attending broad access institutions at baseline.
Intervention: The interventions include a set of informational letters being sent to students. The letters encourage aid application or renewal and provide guidance on how to complete the FAFSA. Among full-time students in the treatment group, we further randomize the framing of the information. A subset of part-time students in the treatment group will also receive information showing how taking more college credits results in more financial aid. A few months after the interventions, we will conduct a follow-up survey to learn more about experiences with financial aid awareness.
Control Condition: The control students will not receive any informational letter. However, they will be asked to complete the follow-up survey to learn more about how students navigate the aid system generally. As part of the NPSAS baseline interview, they will have already consented to be re-contacted but will not know that they are part of the proposed research project.
Research Design: We will randomly assign students to the respective treatment and control interventions. We use the randomization to identify intention-to-treat impacts.
Key Measures: We track college completion and persistence as our primary metrics. We also gather intermediate data on FAFSA application, aid receipt, and enrollment intensity. All of these can be tracked through administrative data.
Analytic Strategy: We use simple regression strategies to take advantage of the randomization in estimating intention-to-treat impacts of the interventions.
This project is supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, US Department of Education under grant number R305A160388.
More from NBER
In addition to working papers, the NBER disseminates affiliates’ latest findings through a range of free periodicals — the NBER Reporter, the NBER Digest, the Bulletin on Retirement and Disability, and the Bulletin on Health — as well as online conference reports, video lectures, and interviews.
- Author: Shane Greenstein