IES grant supports EPI in evaluation of Michigan’s Tuition Incentive Program impacts

July 13, 2022

The state of Michigan’s Tuition Incentive Program (TIP) has a unique structure that distinguishes it from other state need-based financial aid programs. Currently funding some 25,000 students annually, the program is a “first-dollar" scholarship that can be stacked on top of other aid sources; a student’s eligibility is based on categorical participation in Medicaid, a well-established safety net program; and students are notified of their eligibility as early as eighth grade. 

Now 35 years after it was enacted into law, Ford School professors Kevin Stange, Katherine Michelmore, and Megan Tompkins-Stange will lead a rigorous mixed methods evaluation of the program’s impact. Having recently received a $2.7 million grant from the Institute of Education Science (IES), U.S. Department of Education, to study Early First-Dollar Categorical Need-Based Aid: A New Model for Making College Affordable?, Stange, Michelmore, and Tompkins-Stange will draw upon the diverse expertise of a broader team at UM’s Education Policy Initiative (EPI), which includes Marissa Thompson (Assistant Professor of Sociology at Columbia University and EPI affiliate), Jasmina Camo-Biogradlija (Senior Project Manager), and Elizabeth Burland (EPI Predoctoral Fellow) among others. 

The purpose of this project is to evaluate how a large and innovative financial aid program like TIP impacts postsecondary outcomes for low-income high school students. The first phase of the mixed methods approach will draw upon administrative data on the approximately 1.4 million graduates of Michigan public high schools between spring of 2010 and 2023, to perform a descriptive analysis of program eligibility and take-up. Using that data, the research team will conduct a causal analysis comparing students who meet financial aid eligibility requirements for TIP to those who do not. Students being compared will only differ marginally, as some barely meet the state’s need threshold while others barely miss it. To complement the quantitative analyses, explore mechanisms and barriers to TIP access and enrollment, the research team will conduct an in-depth qualitative study which seeks to answer critical questions about “how” the program is being implemented and “why” it may or may not be meeting its intended aims. This portion of the study includes interviews with 130 students, parents, counselors, and TIP program staff.

This project will utilize administrative data sets provided by the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) and Center for Educational Performance and Information (CEPI) and made accessible through the Michigan Education Data Center, which operates out of the EPI. Additionally, the project will leverage new links to data provided by the Michigan Department of Treasury and Health and Human Services. Ultimately, the project aims to yield broader lessons for college affordability policy in other states and at the federal level, including a cost effectiveness study.

“TIP is key part of the State’s strategy to make college affordable and within reach for all Michigan students, particularly those from lower-income families,” Stange says. “This is critical if the State is going to reach its ambitious Sixty by 30 college attainment goal. We are excited to work with the State to better understand how this valuable program can be improved to help remove the barriers that still stand between students and college success.”

The IES award is administered through the National Center for Education Research (NCER), Education Research Grants Program 2022 awards, which support research “to improve the quality of education for all students—prekindergarten through postsecondary and adult education,” the IES announcement stated. 

This research will be entirely supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through Grant R305A220070