As the Dec. 1 college application deadline looms, many prospective students are no doubt aware of the burden that comes with a college education. Some may even decide not to apply for fear of burying themselves in debt come graduation.
The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) recently launched the first large-scale test of college savings accounts when it incorporated a college savings and financial counseling component into GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness for Undergraduate Programs), its initiative to prepare youth for college.
The DOE allocated $16.5 million for GEAR UP and has launched the first federal evaluation of the program. Washington University in St. Louis, through the Center for Social Development (CSD) at the Brown School, is taking part through a $1 million grant.
Led by Michal Grinstein-Weiss, PhD, associate professor of social work and associate director of the CSD, the research conducted at WUSTL will inform policy at the federal level, particularly concerning college savings and child development accounts.
“This will generate rigorous evidence-based policy stemming from a randomized control trial,” says Grinstein-Weiss, principal investigator on the GEAR UP research project. “It’s great that the Department of Education is taking on this initiative, and CSD is very happy to help lead the research.”
The large-scale study will include approximately 20,000 students in 200 high schools across 10 states, and it will be conducted in partnership with Abt Associates, a global research firm that specializes in the fields of health, social and environmental policy. The six-year study will research the impact of college savings accounts, financial counseling and other GEAR UP program features on outcomes such as college savings, enrollment and graduation. The study timeline has the potential to extend to 10 years.
“This research will take place over time, but it also has the potential to have an immediate impact,” Grinstein-Weiss says. “The research will help the NIE shape its College Access Challenge Grant program moving forward, and may also help raise awareness of the ASPIRE Act that Congress likely will be reconsidering.”
GEAR UP, authorized in 1998 by amendments to the Higher Education Act, provides intervention services such as mentoring, tutoring, counseling and scholarships, primarily for low-income middle and high school students. With the new savings element, the DOE aims to enhance its effort to make a college education accessible for all Americans.