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Connecting Students with Financial Aid
Last registered on May 03, 2017

Pre-Trial

Trial Information
General Information
Title
Connecting Students with Financial Aid
RCT ID
AEARCTR-0002012
Initial registration date
May 03, 2017
Last updated
May 03, 2017 4:38 PM EDT
Location(s)
Region
Primary Investigator
Affiliation
Stanford University
Other Primary Investigator(s)
PI Affiliation
Harvard University
Additional Trial Information
Status
On going
Start date
2017-01-20
End date
2018-06-01
Secondary IDs
Abstract
Although there has been recent progress towards simplifying our federal financial aid policies and forms, many families - particularly first-generation college-attending, low-income and minority students - have little knowledge about financial aid, the types of aid available, and how and when to apply for it. Our research project examines the effects of a set of interventions focused on key problems related to eligibilit, application procedures, and financial aid awards. Using a subsample of the 2015-16 National Postsecondary Aid Study (NPSAS) and administrative data sources, we test whether providing clear, student-specific, targeted information (rather than general information) to students improves the likelihood of FAFSA submission, receipt of financial aid, and student persistence. In collaboration with RTI, the contractor responsible for NPSAS data collection, and the Department of Education, we randomly assign individuals to receive different types of information about financial aid. The sample participated in the NPSAS data collection in 2015-16, and our intervention targets these individuals in the early months of 2017. The three main aspects of financial aid upon which we are focusing are: (i) eligibility, (ii) application procedures, and (iii) award rules. Additionally, we will aim to explore whether the message framing (positive, negative, or neutral) influences student behavior. We hope to contribute to the existing literature and, if our interventions prove successful, provide a model for relatively easy and cost-effective replication on a larger scale.
External Link(s)
Registration Citation
Citation
Bettinger, Eric and Bridget Long. 2017. "Connecting Students with Financial Aid." AEA RCT Registry. May 03. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.2012-1.0.
Former Citation
Bettinger, Eric, Eric Bettinger and Bridget Long. 2017. "Connecting Students with Financial Aid." AEA RCT Registry. May 03. http://www.socialscienceregistry.org/trials/2012/history/17264.
Experimental Details
Interventions
Intervention(s)
The outreach consists of email and printed letters mailed to students. Our control group receives no information. For students who have already completed their FAFSA for the coming year, the treatment letter/email focuses on encouraging full-time enrollment so that students might maximize their eligibility for financial aid. For students who have not completed the current year FAFSA, we further stratify them into students who submitted or did not submit the prior year FAFSA. For students who submitted prior year FAFSAs, the treatment letter/email encourages renewal. For students who have not submitted prior year FAFSAs, the treatment letter/email encourages students to file a FAFSA. Among the treatment letters sent to students who have not completed the current year FAFSA, we randomly assign one of three framings (positive, neutral, negative). Across treatments, our intervention also encourages students to take adequate credits to maximize their financial aid eligibility subject to their personal situations and timelines for graduation.
Intervention Start Date
2017-01-20
Intervention End Date
2018-01-31
Primary Outcomes
Primary Outcomes (end points)
FAFSA filing
Timing of FAFSA completion
College credits attempted
College persistence and eventual atttainment
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
We construct our data using survey and administrative data.
Secondary Outcomes
Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
Experimental Design
Experimental Design
The outreach consists of email and printed letters mailed to students. Our control group receives no information. For students who have already completed their FAFSA for the coming year, the treatment letter/email focuses on encouraging full-time enrollment so that students might maximize their eligibility for financial aid. For students who have not completed the current year FAFSA, we further stratify them into students who submitted or did not submit the prior year FAFSA. For students who submitted prior year FAFSAs, the treatment letter/email encourages renewal. For students who have not submitted prior year FAFSAs, the treatment letter/email encourages students to file a FAFSA. Among the treatment letters sent to students who have not completed the current year FAFSA, we randomly assign one of three framings (positive, neutral, negative). Across treatments, our intervention also encourages students to take adequate credits to maximize their financial aid eligibility subject to their personal situations and timelines for graduation.
Experimental Design Details
Randomization Method
Randomization was conducted by RTI through random assignment within Stata. The control group is shared with a different project by a different set of researchers. RTI first randomly selected this control group and divided the NPSAS sample. We then stratified the sample by type of college attended (4-year, 2-year, other), intensity of enrollment in the 2015-16 school year, and prior year FAFSA submission. We randomized within groups. Our cells did not overlap with the other project, and because of the shared control group, the proportion of treatment varied across cells.
Randomization Unit
Randomization is at the individual level.
Was the treatment clustered?
No
Experiment Characteristics
Sample size: planned number of clusters
15,090
Sample size: planned number of observations
15,090 students
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
Control = 4020 students
Already completed FAFSA = 1920 in treatment. Note that this was as of January 15. Anyone filing a FAFSA between January 15 and the date of our initial mailing who was assigned to a different treatment arm will be reassigned to this treatment.

No current or prior year FAFSA = 1402, 1454, and 1420 in positive, neutral, and negative framings.
No current FAFSA but submitted prior FAFSA = 1640, 1699, and 1658 in positive, neutral, and negative framings.
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
Assuming 40 blocks (treatment*stratification arms) with our sample evenly distributed across blocks and no treatment variability, the MDES is 0.05 standard deviations. If there is treatment variability (e.g. 0.10), MDES is 0.14 standard deviations.
IRB
INSTITUTIONAL REVIEW BOARDS (IRBs)
IRB Name
Harvard University
IRB Approval Date
2016-02-15
IRB Approval Number
16-1997
IRB Name
Stanford University
IRB Approval Date
2016-02-03
IRB Approval Number
40214
IRB Name
National Bureau of Economic Research
IRB Approval Date
2016-12-16
IRB Approval Number
16_437
Post-Trial
Post Trial Information
Study Withdrawal
Intervention
Is the intervention completed?
No
Is data collection complete?
Data Publication
Data Publication
Is public data available?
No
Program Files
Program Files
Reports, Papers & Other Materials
Relevant Paper(s)
REPORTS & OTHER MATERIALS