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Education Department failed to properly report on policy experiments at colleges, agency watchdog says

Education Department failed to properly report on policy experiments at colleges, agency watchdog says

Higher Ed Dive

Jeremy Bauer-Wolf
November 2, 2022
Dive Brief:
  • The U.S. Department of Education for about a decade failed to properly report to Congress the findings of policy experiments at colleges, such as testing federal financial aid for incarcerated students, an agency watchdog found.
  • The Education Department is legally required to share with congressional committees at least every two years the results of what are known as Experimental Sites Initiatives. But the department has not published a comprehensive summary since 2010-11, the Office of the Inspector General said in a report dated Monday.
  • Officials from the Office of Federal Student Aid, which runs the experiments, said in response to OIG’s findings that these reports often offered little insight. However, the agency said it will draft a synopsis of all the experiments it has missed by the end of the year.
Dive Insight:
The Education Department solicits colleges to participate in periodic trials that waive statutory or regulatory restrictions. This enables the department to try out otherwise prohibited policies that could have some success.
Two experiments are active, according to OIG.
One is Second Chance Pell, which provides federal financial aid to incarcerated students. The other is the Federal Work Study initiative, which in part is attempting to gauge whether colleges can cultivate closer relationships with private-sector employers by cutting through the red tape of institutions paying Federal Work Study wages to students who work for those companies.
But 15 different experiments have concluded since the Education Department last developed a broad report on these types of tests, OIG said. The last report the department produced detailed ongoing and finished trials from 2003 through 2012.
It did publish two reports in 2020, but they were not thorough enough to comply with the federal government’s disclosure requirements, OIG said.
The watchdog office said department officials have not prioritized these mandates and have not been held accountable for their failures to do so. Education Department staff attributed the gaps to “resource limitations, restructurings, and inaction of senior managers.”
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