The president of the state’s community and technical college system condemned Monday a report by a Washington D.C. firm that concluded Pell Grants and other forms of financial aid for low-income students don’t have a significant impact on their success.
The study entitled “Can Financial Aid Improve Student Success at Louisiana’s Community Colleges,” found that academic preparation is a stronger predictor of success than financial aid.
The Louisiana Board of Regents spent about $50,000 last year to help pay for the study, said Meg Casper, the regents’ associate commissioner of public affairs. She said the regents hoped to find ways the state could better package financial aid to impact student achievement.
Louisiana Community and Technical College System President Joe May called the report by the American Institutes for Research, “politically motivated” with a “predetermined outcome.”
“The intent was to create confusion for something so many people need, and to incite rather than inform,” May said.
Kevin Crockett, president of the Noel-Levitz consulting firm which helped prepare the study, said the intent was to examine whether financial aid affects student retention and completion at two-year colleges, and whether financial aid can be used more efficiently to increase student success rates.
Crockett said the report focused primarily on federal Pell Grant recipients to study students with similar socioeconomic backgrounds.
Nationally, more than one-third of all college students receive some type of Pell award, intended to help bridge the cost of higher education for lower-income and some middle-class families.
Pell Grant funds will go to more than 100,000 Louisiana recipients this year.
Researchers defined “success,” Crockett said, as whether students earned a certificate, an associate’s degree or transferred to a four-year Louisiana college within three years.
“The big question was whether aid has any impact on students’ persistence,” Crockett said.
The study found students required to take remedial courses before moving on to college-level classes have less than a one in 10 chance of succeeding. The report also says that boosting financial aid to Louisiana community college students does not correlate to increased academic success.
In pushing back at the study, May said the study’s premise is “off-base” and its definition of “success,” is flawed.
Need-based financial aid, such as Pell Grants have always been about giving people access to higher education, May said.
A majority of community college students enroll without ever intending to graduate, May added. Also some students often enroll in two-year programs to learn a specific skill to make themselves more employable, May said.
The study, he said, counted people who learned a skill and then left school when they found a job using that skill, as failures, May said.
“They defined success so narrowly. Education is not always some idyllic dream. For some people, it’s a practical necessity,” May said. “And they only counted people who able to finish in three years; that’s not our population.
All they wanted to say with this study is that giving financially needy people access is a bad idea. There was obviously an agenda to this study.”