The Wisconsin Grant is one of the largest state-funded financial aid programs in the nation, supporting over 60,000 students every year. Every July, leaders from the University of Wisconsin System, the Wisconsin Technical College System, the Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, and Wisconsin’s tribal colleges meet to decide how to allocate Wisconsin Grant funds by devising a formula based on students’ expected family contributions. But these decision-makers do not have access to data about how the formula has affected enrollment and graduation outcomes. Without further research, it is impossible to determine whether the methods they have been using to allocate financial aid resources are having the desired effect.
The Wisconsin Higher Educational Aids Board (HEAB), the agency that oversees the Wisconsin Grant, has previously partnered with Dr. Drew Anderson of the RAND Corporation to gather state aid data. HEAB worked with Dr. Anderson to link financial aid eligibility data to academic achievement, resulting in a new database of all financial aid filers and public high school graduates in the state over the last ten years.
In May of 2018, Ascendium made a $150,000 grant to allow Dr. Anderson to use the database to estimate the Wisconsin Grant’s effect on student success. The study is comparing persistence and graduation rates for similar applicants who receive different amounts of aid due to financial eligibility or applying after funds run out. Analysis of this data will shed light on how state financial aid allocation impacts college enrollment, college choice and college completion.
RAND will publish a comprehensive report on their findings in December 2019. A working paper released in May 2019, “When Financial Aid is Scarce: The Challenge of Allocating College Aid Where it is Needed Most,” explores early results of the impacts of the current “first-come, first served” model. We believe this research could help decision-makers in Wisconsin and other states apply grant resources to their greatest effect—helping more students with financial need complete college programs.