Report Calls for Scrutiny of College Access Programs

May 2, 2019

House Democrats in a proposal this week called for $100 million in new funding for TRIO programs, which support college access for low-income students.

A New America report released Thursday, though, contends that the federal government has little clue about how well those programs work -- largely because of the efforts of lobbyists for TRIO grantees. The Council for Opportunity in Education, which represents grantees, successfully pushed for a ban in 2008 on randomized controlled trials to assess TRIO programs.

Clare McCann, deputy director for federal higher education policy at New America's education policy program and the author of the report, writes that federal funding for TRIO or other college access programs like GEAR UP is “rooted in little more than a broad, vague goal of supporting student success, whether or not they actually do so.” And even when effective forms of student support are identified, colleges have little incentive to carry them out.

Congress approved $900 million for TRIO and $360 million for GEAR UP in fiscal year 2019.

The report asks Congress to lift the ban on randomized trials and do away with a system that rewards grant applicants for prior experience, among other recommendations. It also calls for the Education Department to push grantees to offer student support backed by research and support more program evaluations allowed under the ban.

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