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The Effects of Financial Aid Offers on Postsecondary Educational Outcomes: New Experimental Evidence from the Fund for Wisconsin Scholars Grant
Last registered on September 21, 2018

Pre-Trial

Trial Information
General Information
Title
The Effects of Financial Aid Offers on Postsecondary Educational Outcomes: New Experimental Evidence from the Fund for Wisconsin Scholars Grant
RCT ID
AEARCTR-0003198
Initial registration date
September 18, 2018
Last updated
September 21, 2018 12:08 AM EDT
Location(s)

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Primary Investigator
Affiliation
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Other Primary Investigator(s)
PI Affiliation
University of Oklahoma
PI Affiliation
University of Wisconsin-Madison
PI Affiliation
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Additional Trial Information
Status
On going
Start date
2008-09-01
End date
2021-01-01
Secondary IDs
Abstract
The Fund for Wisconsin Scholars (FFWS) was established in 2007 with a founding gift of $175 million from John and Tashia Morgridge. The goal of the FFWS is to increase postsecondary access for economically disadvantaged students in Wisconsin, which the FFWS works to achieve by providing need-based grants. A student is eligible to receive one of these grants if she graduated from a Wisconsin high school, attends a public college or university in the state (including technical colleges) full time, and is eligible to receive a federal Pell Grant. Students do not directly apply for the FFWS grant. Rather, each public institution in Wisconsin uses internal data to identify the set of eligible students enrolled at the school. Each institution then sends its list of eligible students to the Wisconsin Higher Educational Aids Board (HEAB), which randomly assigns students to receive an FFWS offer. Students selected for the FFWS offer receive an award letter that they are instructed to sign and return to the FFWS in order to access the funds—the grants are $1,800/year for students enrolled in two-year institutions and $4,000/year for students at four-year schools. Students not selected for the award are typically unaware they were even eligible. Students who follow the instructions in the award letter have their FFWS automatically renewed—up to a maximum of ten semesters—as long as they meet the initial eligibility criteria and make satisfactory academic progress. The first FFWS grants were awarded in the 2008-09 school year—about 1,200 offers were made that year—and approximately 1,200 offers have been made each subsequent year, allowing us to analyze the effects of the award across several recipient cohorts. As the organization believes program implementation improved after the first cohort, we will only be analyzing the subsequent cohorts. Our outcomes will include persistence in postsecondary school, degree attainment, and transfers.
External Link(s)
Registration Citation
Citation
Carlson, Deven et al. 2018. "The Effects of Financial Aid Offers on Postsecondary Educational Outcomes: New Experimental Evidence from the Fund for Wisconsin Scholars Grant." AEA RCT Registry. September 21. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.3198-1.0.
Former Citation
Carlson, Deven et al. 2018. "The Effects of Financial Aid Offers on Postsecondary Educational Outcomes: New Experimental Evidence from the Fund for Wisconsin Scholars Grant." AEA RCT Registry. September 21. https://www.socialscienceregistry.org/trials/3198/history/34517.
Sponsors & Partners

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Experimental Details
Interventions
Intervention(s)
The intervention is an offer of need-based financial aid for low-income Wisconsin college students. We say the intervention is a financial aid offer, and not the aid itself, because 1) not all students accepted the offer, and 2) the grant is designed to satisfy unmet need and not to replace other forms of grant aid (i.e., non-loan aid). Thus, a student will not receive FFWS grant money if her need it completely met by other forms of grant aid in a given semester, and the amount actually received varies across students.

The size of the grant depends on both the cohort and the type of school where a student is enrolled. Students in technical and two-year colleges can receive up to $1,800 per academic year. Early in the program, four-year students could receive up to $3,500 per academic year. Recently, that amount increased to $4,000 (in the 2015-16 school year). Students can continue to receive these funds for up to ten semesters as long as they continue to meet eligibility requirements (see below).
Intervention Start Date
2008-09-01
Intervention End Date
2021-01-01
Primary Outcomes
Primary Outcomes (end points)
a) College persistence into the second academic year (third semester)

b) Six-year bachelor’s degree completion
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
a) College persistence into the second academic year (third semester): measured as continued enrollment in any postsecondary institution in the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) data. A student will be coded as “1” if he or she is enrolled in the first three semesters (fall/spring/fall) following initial enrollment. Since NSC data only provides semester-by-semester enrollment records, we do not account for early withdrawals. That is, we are only measuring whether a student is enrolled at the beginning of each semester, and not whether they completed each semester.

b) Six-year bachelor’s degree completion: measured using degree completions from the National Student Clearinghouse data. A student will be coded as a “1” if he or she has an observed bachelor’s degree completion within six academic years of initial enrollment (i.e., by the summer of the sixth academic year) and “0” otherwise.
Secondary Outcomes
Secondary Outcomes (end points)
a) Four-year degree completion

b) Three-year associate’s degree completion

c) Transfer to a four-year college within three academic years
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
a) Four-year degree completion: measured as receiving a bachelor’s degree within four years of initial enrollment in the National Student Clearinghouse data. We will only conduct this analysis for students who initially enrolled in a four-year college. These students will be coded as a “1” if they completed a bachelor’s degree within four academic years of enrollment (i.e., by the summer of the fourth academic year) and as a “0” otherwise.

b) Three-year associate’s degree completion: measured using degree completions from the National Student Clearinghouse data. A student who initially enrolled in a technical college or UWS two-year college will be coded as a “1” if he or she has an observed associate’s degree completion within three academic years of enrollment (i.e., by the summer of the third academic year) and “0” otherwise.

c) Transfer to a four-year college within three academic years: measured as enrolling in a four-year college within three academic years of initial two-year college enrollment (i.e., by the summer of the third academic year). We will only apply this variable to students who initially enrolled in a two-year college (technical college or University of Wisconsin System).
Experimental Design
Experimental Design
At the beginning of each school year, University of Wisconsin System (UWS) colleges and Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) colleges submit a list of newly enrolled students who are eligible to receive the grant to the Higher Educational Aids Board (HEAB). HEAB compiles all of the eligible four-year students into one pool and all of the eligible two-year students (i.e., two-year UWS students and WTCS students) into another and conducts a blocked randomization (see the eligibility requirements below). HEAB randomly selects around 1,100 to 1,300 total students for the treatment condition with the goal that 500 students in each randomization block will accept the award (see Table 1 of the pre-analysis plan for the selection and take-up rates by cohort). The treatment group are those eligible students who were randomly selected for the award (regardless of whether they accepted), while the control group are those eligible students who were not randomly selected. We note that eligible students are identified on the basis of administrative data alone; students need not take any active steps to enter into consideration.

The requirements for initial grant eligibility are the following (from the FFWS website):
a) be a resident of Wisconsin
b) have been a full-time, resident student in a Wisconsin public school for four semesters prior to graduation
c) have received a Wisconsin public high school diploma or HSED within the past three years
d) be under the age of 21 years at initial eligibility
e) be in a first degree program unless moving from an associate degree to a bachelor’s program
f) be enrolled full time in a UW System university based in Wisconsin
g) be a PELL recipient

To maintain eligibility for the grant (for up to ten semesters) students in a given semester must meet the following criteria (from the FFWS website):
a) student’s college enrollment at a UW college or university or WTCS (Wisconsin Technical College System) college is full time
b) enrollment does not exceed six semesters in a WTCS or a UW college [i.e., two-year UW colleges]
c) adequate academic progress is being made with degree completion expected
d) student’s school continues to follow the grant process
e) FAFSA is completed.

Students receive funds in that semester only if they have unmet need (i.e., financial need minus grant aid offers).

One notable feature of the program is that students maintain grant eligibility if they transfer to another eligible school (i.e., an eligible technical college or University of Wisconsin two-/four-year college).
Experimental Design Details
Not available
Randomization Method
At the beginning of each school year, University of Wisconsin System (UWS) colleges and Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) colleges submit a list of newly enrolled students who are eligible to receive the grant to the Higher Educational Aids Board (HEAB). HEAB compiles all of the eligible four-year students into one pool and all of the eligible two-year students (i.e., two-year UWS students and WTCS students) into another and conducts a blocked randomization (see the eligibility requirements above). HEAB randomly selects around 1,100 to 1,300 total students for the treatment condition with the goal that 500 students in each randomization block will accept the award (see Table 1 of the pre-analysis plan for the selection and take-up rates by cohort). The treatment group are those eligible students who were randomly selected for the award (regardless of whether they accepted), while the control group are those eligible students who were not randomly selected. We note that eligible students are identified on the basis of administrative data alone; students need not take any active steps to enter into consideration.
Randomization Unit
Individual students were randomized to treatment each year within (i.e., blocked by) type of initial enrollment (i.e., four-year college or two-year college).
Was the treatment clustered?
No
Experiment Characteristics
Sample size: planned number of clusters
Two randomization clusters (students initially enrolled in four-year colleges and two-year colleges) in each of the seven cohorts under study.
Sample size: planned number of observations
49,823 students (i.e., those students eligible to be randomized in the 2009-10 through 2015-16 cohorts).
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
8,612 students were randomized to treatment (i.e., FFWS offer) and 41,211 students were randomized to control (i.e., no FFWS offer).
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
Figures 1-4 in the appendix of the pre-analysis plan show minimum detectable effect size (MDES) calculations for our primary analyses, setting power at 80 percent and using a 5 percent significance threshold. We calculated MDES with the PowerUpR package in R, using the “Two-Level Blocked (Constant Treatment Effect) Individual-Level Random Assignment Design, Treatment at Level 1” (mdes.bira2c1) function (Bulus et al. 2018). The results suggest minimum detectable effect sizes in the range of 0.040 to 0.047 standard deviations for persistence and 0.0625 to 0.0725 standard deviations for bachelor’s degree completion.
IRB
INSTITUTIONAL REVIEW BOARDS (IRBs)
IRB Name
University of Wisconsin-Madison Education and Social/Behavioral Science Institutional Review Board
IRB Approval Date
2018-03-13
IRB Approval Number
2017-1206
Analysis Plan

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