The Grit Grant: An Equity- and Outcomes-Based Federal Financial Aid Program to Accelerate PostSecondary Attainment for Low-Income Students
Evans, Mark S.
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One of the most pressing problems in higher education is the postsecondary socioeconomic attainment gap. While national postsecondary attainment rates in the U.S. have gradually risen over the past several decades, this trend obscures the substantially lower rates of attainment among low-income students and masks the widening socioeconomic attainment gap during the past 20 years. This gap imposes substantial disproportionate costs upon low-income students, their children, and society. It further impedes the ability of local governments and educational institutions to effectively meet workforce demands for skilled labor. Based upon a review of the research, this paper describes the primary factors that influence attainment of low-income students, in addition to several of the prominent federal, state, and institutional interventions that seek to narrow the gap. While evidence indicates that many of the performance- and needs-based financial aid interventions have some positive effect on attainment for low-income students, they generally lack equity-based measures that can lead to regressive outcomes, lack incentives to effectively align the behaviors of students and institutions with shared attainment goals, and commonly fail to incorporate the cognitive and non-cognitive needs of students. To address these limitations, this paper recommends that Congress approve the discretionary funding of a three-year trial to develop a proof-of-concept for a new federal financial aid program called the Grit Grant with a specific policy goal of accelerating postsecondary attainment for low-income students, and that would complement the current Federal Pell Grant and incorporate policy features from successful case studies. Using cost-benefit analysis as a primary policy evaluative method of efficiency, this paper concludes that the Grit Grant program would likely result in a positive Social Return on Investment (SROI), and also receive bipartisan political support for many of its policy features.