Flower Meadow in the North


First steps to mapping the non-Title-IV education landscape

Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965 permits certain postsecondary institutions to be eligible for federal financial aid funds. A wide variety of programs are Title IV eligible: public, private, for-profit, vocational. Yet there are also a vast number of non-Title-IV (NT4) programs, offering credentials, certifications, and various forms of training—and neither the Department of Education, nor any other body, collects unified data on all these programs. How many students attend them? What subjects are they learning? What are their outcomes?

There’s only been one recent paper that’s made a serious attempt to understand the scale of NT4 programs. In a 2012 working paper, Stephanie Cellini and Claudia Goldin calculated that NT4 institutions educate 27% of students enrolled in for-profit institutions each year (670,000 enrollments).

A 2017 paper by Jessie Brown and Martin Kurzweil for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences attempts to map the alternative postsecondary landscape, including “certificate programs; work-based training; skills-based short courses; MOOCs; and competency-based education programs.” That paper finds that these programs are growing:

“While each of these alternatives has roots that reach back decades if not longer, for a number of reasons, alternatives have increased in size, diversity, and importance in recent years, and are likely to continue to grow. Though the length and cost of alternative programs vary, most last for less than two years and cost significantly less than a four-year degree, the cost of which continues to rise rapidly… A characteristic feature of all the programs discussed is their flexibility to align directly with specific employer needs and competencies in skill-based fields. Despite these reasons for their appeal and likely growth, evidence of the efficacy and value of these alternatives—for students and taxpayers—is still thin.”

As the debate over the skills gap continues and the cost of college soars, the obscurity in which these programs operate becomes increasingly untenable. Link to that paper.

  • Brown and Kurzweil work includes three recommendations for policymakers, including recommendations to create a robust data system and quality assurance scheme. George Washington University has just launched the Non-Degree Credential Network project to begin building out research and data. Link.
  • Andrew Reamer’s 2018 list of credential info aggregators brings into relief the diversity of the programs as well as the chaotic state of the information about them. Link.
  • In a March letter, we featured work by Xu and Trimble on a closely related topic: what are the outcomes of students who participate in certificate programs? Link to that letter, link to their paper.
  • A 2016 paper by Santa Falcone examines US certificate programs at Title IV schools from 1980-2013, and includes some relevant education history: “This growth period [1870-1910] also brought into existence private, external, independent university ratings agencies. These agencies successfully used coercion and incentives on higher education institutions to develop more standardized admissions, instruction, and accreditation criteria to counter the lack of any existing academic standards.” Link.
  • A 2013 paper by Rosenbaum and Rosenbaum covers occupational colleges and certificate programs (with, again, a focus on Title IV institutions). Link.


New evidence on the fallout of welfare block grants

In a forthcoming paper, Columbia economics postdoc ZACHARY PAROLIN produces new evidence of the deleterious effects of 1996 welfare reform—specifically, the decision to turn the federally administered Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC) to the state-administered Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. Parolin conducts a detailed audit of the cross-state differences in spending prioritization that emerged through TANF, and elucidates the relationship between a state’s racial composition and its allocation of resources. He finds that states with higher black populations, in keeping with racist anti-welfare rhetoric, focus more of their spending on “family formation” programs, rather than cash assistance, and that this has contributed to the black-white child poverty gap.

From the paper:

“Since the program’s implementation, states have been granted broad discretion in deciding how to allocate TANF resources, so long as the programs or policies funded can be deemed to serve one of four purposes: (1) the provision of cash assistance, (2) the promotion of “job preparation, work, and marriage,” (3) the prevention of “out-of-wedlock pregnancies,” and (4) the “formation and maintenance of two-parent families.” Research on state heterogeneity in TANF has narrowed in almost exclusively on the first of these four purposes, highlighting regional differences in TANF cash benefit levels or barriers to the receipt of cash assistance. This strict focus on cash assistance, however, misses more than three-fourths of the program’s expenditures: in 2014, the average state allocated only 22.6 percent of its budget toward the provision of cash assistance.

Black children in the United States are more than twice as likely as white children to live in poverty. While past research has primarily attributed this phenomenon to the family structure of black children, this paper investigates how state-level heterogeneity in social assistance programs contributes to the black-white child poverty gap. I find that racial inequities in states’ administration of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program contributed to the impoverishment of approximately 256,000 black children per year from 2012-2014. State-year panel data demonstrates that states with larger percentages of black residents are less likely to prioritize the ‘provision of cash assistance’ but more likely to allocate funds toward the ‘discouragement of lone motherhood.’ Neutralizing inequities in states’ TANF spending priorities would reduce the black-white child poverty gap by up to 15 percent—comparable to the reduction effect of moving all children in single-mother households to two-parent households.”

Link to the paper, link to Parolin’s website.

Each week we highlight great work from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Have you read any excellent research recently that you’d like to see shared here? Send it our way: editorial@jainfamilyinstitute.org.


  • New on Phenomenal World: former JFI fellow Hana Beach interviews basic income scholar Almaz Zelleke on the forgotten histories of the welfare reform movement’s advocacy for unconditional basic income, and the politics of UBI advocacy today. Link.
  • A growing body of evidence indicates that current measures of potential output, used to guide fiscal and monetary policy, are unfounded. In a new report, Claudia Fontanari, Antonella Palumbo, and Chiara Salvatori propose a new measure rooted in the demand-led growth perspective. Link.
  • As part of an ongoing series on China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a Nature article on the funding of research centers in South America: “Beijing’s science silk road.” Link.
  • A concise list by law professor John Pfaff in the Washington Post dispels some prominent myths about US prisons in an effort to refocus attention on the areas that matter most for reform. Link.
  • Last Saturday, JFI’s Director of Research Sidhya Balakrishnan testified in favor of an opt-in structure for the Alaska Permanent Fund before the Alaska State Legislature. Her proposed restructuring would allow recipients to determine how frequently their dividends are disbursed depending on their financial constraints: “On an annual disbursement schedule, the ideal scenario is one in which recipients smooth their consumption in anticipation of the dividend at the end of the year. Poor households which are constrained in terms of savings and access to credit are unable to do this. The option of more frequent disbursements would allow these households to smooth their consumption and would thus maximize their benefit.” Link to the full testimony.
  • Public sector salary disclosure laws in Canada had three effect on faculty salaries: “First, the disclosure laws reduced salaries on average. Second, the laws reduced the gender pay gap between men and women. Third, the closure of the gender gap is primarily in universities where faculty are unionized.” By Michael Baker, Yosh Halberstam, Kory Kroft, Alexandre Mas, and Derek Messacar. Link.
  • In the forthcoming issue of NYRB, Adam Tooze weighs in on the historical moment which produced the present global crisis of democracy. Link.
  • “Granting employees an equity ‘stake and a say’ in the companies that they work for means that when corporate executives decide on the level of dividends to be paid to shareholders, the workers who created the profits will not be left in the dust.” Lenore Palladino from the Roosevelt Institute looks at inclusive ownership funds in the UK and how they could be applied to the US. Link.
  • A fantasy medieval city generator, a fantasy vulgar language generator, and a fantasy culture generator. Link, link, link. ht Michael ht Kapu and ht Francis respectively.
  • Daniel Ernst on the history of the FCC, with insights into the creation and maintenance of administrative apparatuses throughout the New Deal and beyond. Link.
  • Data for Progress presents a comprehensive and universal housing proposal. Equitable zoning practices, the construction of millions of public homes, renter relief, and closing tax loopholes for landlords are all on the agenda. Link.
  • How gender bias persists through blind review in grant application processes. By Julian Kolev, Yuly Fuentes-Medel, Fiona Murray. Link to the paper, link to a blog post. ht Sidhya.
  • Charting the growth of zero hour contracts. Link.
  • “Using a novel municipal-level dataset on revolutionary insurgency, the study documents that municipalities experiencing severe drought just prior to the Mexican Revolution were substantially more likely to have insurgent activity than municipalities where drought was less severe. Many insurgents demanded land reform, and following the Revolution, Mexico redistributed over half of its surface area in the form of ejidos: farms comprised of individual and communal plots that were granted to a group of petitioners. Rights to ejido plots were non-transferable, renting plots was prohibited, and many decisions about the use of ejido lands had to be countersigned by politicians. Instrumental variables estimates show that municipalities with revolutionary insurgency had 22 percentage points more of their surface area redistributed as ejidos. Today, insurgent municipalities are 20 percentage points more agricultural and 6 percentage points less industrial.” By Melissa Dell. Link.

Each week we highlight research from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Send us recommendations: editorial@jainfamilyinstitute.org

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