Second Round of Gates Project Aims for 'Convergence' of Financial Aid Reforms

September 12, 2013 | The Chronicle of Higher Education |  Link to article

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, continuing to explore ideas for using financial aid as a lever to improve student success, has selected the grant recipients for the second round of its Reimagining Aid Design and Delivery project, foundation officials have told The Chronicle.

Using financial aid in the service of completion is a departure from the traditional view that aid is for expanding access, but the newer idea ties in with the Gates Foundation's broader goals for higher education.

The concept has gained some traction lately, notably appearing in President Obama's new college-affordability plan. Mr. Obama proposed strengthening academic-progress requirements for financial aid, for instance, requiring students to complete a certain percentage of their courses to remain eligible. Critics worry, however, that tying aid to success could box out disadvantaged students.

The first round of the Gates project, commonly known as RADD, identified some points of consensus but also differences of opinion in the recommendations of the 16 think tanks, advocacy groups, and other organizations that participated. Widely shared proposals included making income-based loan repayment more common, or even universal; ending or consolidating education tax credits; and providing prospective students with better information about outcomes at individual colleges.

The second round will explore some of those ideas in more depth and "give folks an opportunity to see if there's convergence" said Nick Lee, the senior program officer at the foundation who oversees the project. While there is already some common ground, the foundation isn't asking grantees to agree on all of the details of a particular policy recommendation, but to indicate points of disagreement in their papers, he said.

The 18 groups participating in this round are organized into five consortia, each led by one grantee. Two of the consortia will focus on grant aid and Work Study, and one each will focus on tax credits, loans, and simplification and transparency. Each consortium received roughly $300,000, for a total of about $1.6-million. Some groups are in more than one consortium.

The consortia are:

  • Education Trust Consortium (grants and Work Study): American Association of State Colleges and Universities, Complete College America, New America Foundation, United States Students Association, Young Invincibles.
  • Excelencia in Education Consortium (grants and Work Study): Center for Law and Social Policy, College Board, Committee for Economic Development, National Urban League.
  • Center for Law and Social Policy Consortium (tax credits): Education Trust, New America Foundation, Young Invincibles.
  • Young Invincibles Consortium (loans): Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, Council for Economic Development, HCM Strategists, Institute for Higher Education Policy, National Association of Student Financial-Aid Administrators, National Campus Leadership Council, National College Access Network, New America Foundation.
  • National College Access Network Consortium (simplification and transparency): Center for Law and Social Policy, College Board, Institute for Higher Education Policy, New America Foundation, U.S. Chamber of Commerce-Institute for a Competitive Workforce, Young Invincibles.

This batch of grantees includes five organizations new to the project and quite a few familiar names. Thirteen of the 16 groups from the first round are also part of the second. The three that are not are the Alliance for Excellent Education, America's Promise Alliance, and the Institute for College Access and Success.

The Gates Foundation is giving the grantees flexibility in when and how they will write up their ideas, but whatever they publish should be available by the middle of 2014, Mr. Lee said.

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