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(General) Subject: Suggestions for the Experimental Sites Initiative

Posted Date:November 4, 2009

Author: Jeff Baker, Director Policy Liaison and Implementation, Federal Student Aid

Subject: Suggestions for the Experimental Sites Initiative

Summary:On October 28, 2009 the Department published a Federal Register Notice soliciting ideas for new experiments to test alternative procedures for the administration of the Title IV student assistance programs.


Section 487A(b) of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (the HEA) allows the Secretary to select a limited number of institutions for voluntary participation in the Experimental Sites Initiative (ESI). Participating ESI institutions experiment with alternative approaches for administering the student assistance programs authorized under Title IV of the HEA. As described in a Federal Register Notice published on October 28, 2009, we have established a two-phase process that is designed to result in a set of new experiments to be conducted by participating institutions.

We hope this two-step process will encourage institutions to identify areas of the Title IV Aid delivery process in need of improvement and provide the Department with the opportunity to maximize the usefulness of experiments in terms of informing future policy decisions. If an experiment produces the desired outcome, the Department wants to be able to attribute that success to the alternative process being tested. We will consider the outcomes of successful experiments when considering changes to the Title IV, HEA program regulations or, if appropriate, in legislative proposals to the Congress.


Under phase one of the ESI we do not ask institutions to prepare and submit a full-blown experimental plan. Instead, we invite institutions to identify existing sections of law, regulations, or required procedures concerning the administration of Title IV aid that they believe impose unintended negative consequences on students and/or undue burden on the institutions administering the programs. We seek suggestions for alternative means for accomplishing the intent of existing requirements in a manner that reduces any negative consequences associated with current practices. We are particularly interested in experiments that might produce stronger academic outcomes for students, such as improved persistence, shorter time to degree, and reduced reliance on outside work.

We also seek suggestions about how to measure the burden of administering the programs under the current and proposed alternatives. Finally, we request suggestions for outcome measures that the Department could use to evaluate the success of the proposed alternative so that we can determine if the original requirement should be eliminated or modified.

Institutions submitting suggestions for experiments should address the following:

  • The specific statutory or regulatory requirement(s) relating to the Title IV, HEA programs the institution, or consortium of institutions, seeks relief from in order to test the alternative approach.
  • The perceived objective of, or reason for, the current requirement.
  • How the proposed alternative approach avoids or minimizes problems with the existing requirement and still addresses its objective.
  • Additional benefits from the proposed alternative approach.

Because we must demonstrate that the experiments have the potential to improve efficiency while at the same time protecting the integrity of Title IV, HEA programs, we are especially interested in experiments that integrate scientifically valid evaluation methodologies into the suggested experiments. Thus, we would appreciate receiving suggestions that address the following components for evaluating the experiments:

  • Measuring the undesirable aspects of complying with the current regulatory or statutory requirement identified.
  • Measuring how well the objective or reason behind the current regulatory or statutory requirement identified is being met now and how it will be met in the experiment.
  • Measuring any additional benefits associated with a proposed experiment.
  • The kind of data we should collect from the institution or consortium once we select sites for participation in the experiments.

Institutions submitting ideas under phase one do not commit themselves to the experiment that will be designed by the Department under phase two, as described below, but will have the opportunity to help focus the new set of ESI experiments on issues that concern institutions and their students. We encourage institutions to collaborate in the development of proposals.

We hope that the invitation to submit suggestions under phase one of the ESI will encourage institutions to suggest innovative strategies that improve postsecondary student outcomes, relieve unnecessary burden, and maintain program accountability.


Phase two of the ESI will, building on the suggestions offered by institutions under phase one, begin with Departmental staff developing detailed experimental designs and evaluation plans for a set of approved experiments. We then will, in a subsequent Notice in the Federal Register, invite institutions to participate in one or more of the approved experiments.

Since the purpose of the experiments is to make evidence-based recommendations concerning possible changes to the law, the regulations, and/or to administrative procedures that affect large numbers of institutions and students, all new experiments must measure and demonstrate success in reducing burden while meeting the objectives of the original requirement. Elements of success include reduced administrative burden, benefits to students and no increase in the cost to the taxpayer.


We recommend that suggestions be prepared in either a Microsoft Word or Adobe Acrobat document that is attached to an electronic mail message sent to ask that submitters include the name and address of the institution(s) that is submitting the suggestion and the name, title, mailing and e-mail addresses, and telephone number of a contact person for the institution or consortium. If the submission is from a consortium of institutions, we ask that the submitter list all institutions but only one contact person.

If you have any questions on the information included in this announcement, please contact Warren Farr by e-mail at or by telephone at (202) 377– 4380.

Last Modified: 11/03/2009