Secretary DeVos Builds on "Rethink Higher Education" Agenda, Expands Opportunities for Students Through Innovative Experimental Sites

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Secretary DeVos Builds on "Rethink Higher Education" Agenda, Expands Opportunities for Students Through Innovative Experimental Sites

May 20, 2019

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos today announced the launch of the first new higher education experimental site during her tenure and is inviting new participants to join another experiment already underway.

The new Federal Work-Study (FWS) Experiment will provide institutions with increased flexibilities that will enable students to earn work-study benefits while participating in apprenticeships, internships and work-based learning programs, as well as earn work-study wages while completing required clinical rotations, externships and student teaching.

“For decades, the Federal Work-Study program has allowed students to support themselves while earning a college degree, but for too long, the majority of the work options students have had access to have been irrelevant to their chosen field of study,” said Secretary DeVos. “That will change with this experimental site. We want all students to have access to relevant earn-and-learn experiences that will prepare them for future employment.”

The Secretary also announced today the Department will expand the Second Chance Pell experiment by allowing new cohorts of colleges and universities to participate. This important experiment has already provided a number of students with new educational opportunities that prepare them for college and workplace success. Adding additional students and institutions to the experiment will help to improve the Department’s ability to evaluate the program’s effectiveness.

“We are eager to expand the Second Chance Pell experiment, which has shown significant promise,” said Secretary DeVos. “We hope that through this expansion, we can reach more students and utilize the information gathered to better inform Congress about future updates to the Higher Education Act.”

The Federal Work-Study Experiment

This new experiment will test the effectiveness of engaging more students in private-sector employment, increasing the number of work-based learning opportunities available to students and providing greater flexibility in the number of hours a student may work. Additionally, the experiment will measure the effectiveness of improving student retention and completion, increasing student work-readiness, and improving post-graduate employment opportunities.

Under the current FWS program, nearly 92 percent of all funds are spent to support students in on-campus employment, while just over eight percent support students working for non-profit organizations. Less than one-tenth of one percent, or just $726,000 of the billion-dollar FWS program, are spent to support students in private-sector employment, where many students are likely to seek permanent employment.

The experiment will eliminate a number of the barriers that made engagement with private-sector employers undesirable for many colleges and universities. Under this experiment, an institution is no longer limited in the amount of its FWS funding it can allocate to private-sector employers, and it will remove other requirements related to community service work opportunities.

The experiment also will study the impact of paying students engaged in required externships, clinical rotations or student teaching on factors such as completion, student satisfaction and reduced borrowing. The Department will increase the amount of Job Location and Development (JLD) funds available to institutions participating in the experiment to assist them in fostering long-term partnerships with employers that can benefit FWS and non-FWS students alike. The experiment will allow institutions to use JLD funds to retain apprenticeship intermediaries to help increase the number of apprenticeship opportunities available to students.  Apprenticeship intermediaries are organizations or firms that work with employers to help them identify potential apprentices and screen them according to the employer’s needs, develop on-the-job training materials, assess apprenticeship performance and/or work with partnering education providers to ensure that classroom learning and on-the-job training are aligned.[1]

Finally, the experiment will reduce the wage share for certain private-sector employers—such as small businesses—to equal that of non-profit employers. It is a myth that all non-profit organizations are financially disadvantaged, and all private-sector organizations are financially flush. Therefore, it does not make sense to require a higher wage share of a small start-up company than is required of a large, well-funded, non-profit organization. The Department hopes that employers that benefit from wage subsidies through the FWS program will be more generous in covering the cost of tuition and fees or in providing other benefits to students. The goal is to produce spillover effects that engage employers more actively in curriculum and program review.

The experiment will allow institutions to offer many of the same advantages to small, private-sector employers that institutions already offer to non-profit organizations, and it will facilitate the development of new partnerships between employers and institutions to ensure that students leave college well-prepared to enter the workforce. The experiment will be rigorously evaluated by comparing results between similar groups of institutions and/or students to determine potential benefits or drawbacks related to employment outcomes, the development of workforce partnerships, and other goals. 

The Second Chance Pell Experiment

This experiment provides need-based Pell Grants to individuals incarcerated in state and federal prisons so that they can enroll in postsecondary programs offered by local colleges and universities. Currently, there are 64 schools in 26 states participating in this experiment. In 2015, more than 200 schools submitted applications seeking to participate. The goal is to give more institutions a chance to participate.

In the first two years, 40 institutions were awarded approximately $35.6 million in Pell Grants to about 8,800 incarcerated students. Institutions offered more than 1,000 different courses with an average of 19 per site. To date, 954 credentials have been awarded, including credentials to 578 individuals while they were incarcerated, and 34 to those who completed their program after returning to their community. According to a recent study by the Vera Institute, incarcerated individuals who participate in prison education programs are 43 percent less likely to return to prison than those who do not. Although some of the students enrolled in these programs are pursuing career and technical education, others are pursuing general studies and liberal arts degrees.

About the Experimental Sites Initiative

The Experimental Sites Initiative (ESI) is a limited waiver authority provided under the Higher Education Act (HEA) to evaluate new policy ideas for potential broader applicability. Under the ESI, the Secretary has authority to grant waivers of certain federal student aid program statutory or regulatory requirements to allow a limited number of institutions to participate in experiments to test alternative methods of administering the federal student aid programs. To learn more about current and past experiments, please visit

[1] For more information about apprenticeship intermediaries, and the role they have played in building sector-based programs and strategies, see