The Department of Education will end four experimental initiatives launched under the Obama administration granting participating institutions a waiver from certain statutes concerning federal student aid. Those initiatives, known as experimental sites, included a program popular with colleges allowing them to limit the unsubsidized loans a student could take out.
The colleges were informed of the news by Jeff Baker, policy liaison and implementation director at the Office of Federal Student Aid, in a letter to participating institutions. Baker said the department made the decision to conclude the experiments at the end of the 2016-17 award year, or June 30, because analysis of data collected from those institutions had not provided sufficient information to support continuation.
In addition to the loan limits experiment, the department will end the following sites:
- A program allowing individuals with bachelor's degrees to enroll in vocational programs using Pell Grants
- A program allowing colleges and universities to offer training programs shorter than the statutorily required amount of time to Pell recipients
- A federal work-study initiative allowing institutions to pay work-study recipients to serve as peer counselors for high school students
Experimental sites authority gives the department the ability to grant waivers to federal statute so that it can study the effect of potential policies on a limited basis. The Obama administration launched more than a dozen experimental sites initiatives between 2011 and 2017, winding down several of the initial experiments last year. Eleven programs remained before the notices from the department this month. The best known of the remaining experiments may be the Second-Chance Pell initiative and another initiative allowing participating institutions to require loan counseling for student borrowers.
"My guess is that the new administration expressed some interest in doing additional experiments," said Clare McCann, a senior policy analyst with New America's Education Policy program and a former Obama Department of Education official. "FSA only has the capacity to monitor a certain number of these at a time."