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A new paper from the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences looks at the effects of two federal experiments to expand Pell Grant eligibility for short-term occupational training programs. The report was prepared for IES by Mathematica and Social Policy Research Associates.

The experiments occurred from 2011 to 2017 and dropped certain federal aid rules to allow shorter-term programs than are currently allowed to be eligible for Pell Grants. One featured income-eligible students with bachelor's degrees, who could receive the grants for short-term occupational training programs. The second experiment allowed income-eligible students to receive Pell for very short-term programs that lasted as little as eight weeks.

Students with a bachelor's degree were 26 percentage points more likely to enroll in additional education if they were offered an experimental Pell Grant to pay for a short-term training program, the research found. And those who were offered the experimental grant were 17 percentage points more likely to complete than their peers who were not. Bachelor's degree holders in the experiment also were 11 percentage points more likely to complete programs in high-demand fields.

The second experiment on very short-term programs also resulted in higher enrollment (15 percentage points) and completion rates (nine percentage points), and an eight-percentage-point bump in completion of programs in high-demand fields.

Being offered an experimental Pell Grant for a short-term program had no impact on the share of students taking out federal student loans or the average amount of the loans they received, the paper said.

The analysis did not find convincing evidence that students who were offered the experimental grants were less likely to earn an associate degree -- a concern among some critics of opening up Pell to short-term credentials. But it also did not appear to resolve concerns about the labor-market value of very short-term programs.

"Some studies suggest that certificates from certain short occupational training programs can be very attractive to employers, perhaps even more so than an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in a different field," the paper said. "However, the benefits of shorter programs seem to vary with the field of study, local labor market conditions and individual characteristics like gender, race and ethnicity."