For Immediate Release: September 25, 2012

CLASP Explores New Approaches in Federal Policy to Help Low-Income Students Complete College

Gates Foundation Funds Initiative

Washington, DC — Two unfortunate phenomena have been converging to make college even more elusive for low-income students: the affordability of postsecondary education is waning at the same time that low-income students in this slowly recovering economy must juggle school, family and work to earn credentials of value in an increasingly competitive job market. Against this backdrop, CLASP (the Center for Law and Social Policy) has received a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to participate in the Reimagining Aid Delivery and Design (RADD) project with 13 other organizations.  The RADD project is intended to accomplish two goals: (1) to shift the national conversation on federal financial aid toward ideas that will make college more affordable, while giving students the support and encouragement they need to earn their degree or credential; and (2) to seed the field with innovative policies that can make that happen. 

CLASP's goal in this project is to maximize the impact of the federal higher education investment by exploring strategies for reforming student financial aid to better support students as they persist in postsecondary education and complete credentials with value in the labor market. The organization will explore ways to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of education tax benefits and to support and incentivize institutions to better help students continue and complete their credential programs.  CLASP approaches this project with the view that the goals of the federal higher education investment should be: (1) to increase economic and educational opportunity for all, with priority for low-income underrepresented students; and 2) to promote economic growth.  The organization's ideas for policy options will reflect these goals.

"Education is both a private and a public good. We are seeing this become increasingly true as employers demand more skilled and better-educated workers with postsecondary credentials," said Evelyn Ganzglass, Director, Workforce Development at CLASP. "Our student aid systems and higher education policies and investments should reflect this duality. CLASP understands very well the austerity environment in which many policymakers are operating, but we also feel the tremendous pressure to invest in the people and workforce of this nation - pressure that is fueled by the growing demand for postsecondary credentials, historic levels of economic inequality, and global competition."

In the RADD project, CLASP will be highlighting the importance of more robust need-based grant aid programs like Pell Grants by educating policymakers and others to understand the true costs low-income working students incur to attend college - especially those beyond tuition and fees, such as living costs, child care, and transportation to and from school. CLASP will also produce informational materials showing how inadequate most financial aid packages are for these students and spotlighting the significant unmet need - the cost of college minus all grant aid - that threatens these students' success.

"This is a critically important conversation," said Nick Lee, Senior Program Officer, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  "The foundation is pleased to support this work because we need many more voices weighing in on how financial aid can be used as a lever to help more students access and succeed in college."

The current political and budget environment make this a challenging time to propose creative ideas to help students - especially any that may require more funding. CLASP has set a high bar for assessing its own policy ideas as well as those from other organizations.  "We expect that any of the initial ideas emerging from this project - including our own - will be critically evaluated before they are considered viable policy options," said Vickie Choitz, Senior Policy Analyst at CLASP.  CLASP would like to see ideas that are evidenced-based, meaning that they are backed up with data showing that change is needed and that the proposed changes will help - not hurt - needy students. CLASP also wants to see proposed ideas modeled to clearly show any redistributive effects among students. To the extent possible, CLASP would like to see significant proposed changes to student aid piloted to understand the actual effects before making major changes to a sound system.

CLASP was selected for this project because of the organization's commitment to and success in developing and promoting federal policies to help strengthen low-income families and create pathways to education and work.  The organization's work on this RADD project began on July 1 and will continue through early 2013.

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