IDA Pays Research Overview

University of Southern California


Research Overview

Research Objectives:

The overarching goal for this project is to increase IDA use for educational purposes and to increase higher education’s involvement with IDAs. There were three objectives for the project:

  1. Describe and understand current education IDAs initiatives, particularly those with postsecondary involvement and partnerships.
  2. Examine the potential of IDAs for increasing access to education for low-income students.
  3. Explore challenges to and facilitators of growth and expansion of education IDAs and involvement of the postsecondary sector

Research Design and Method:

There were three main activities in order to meet the objectives outlined:

  • The research team conducted interviews with IDA practitioners
  • We used data from the descriptive interview studies to identify 6 educational IDA initiatives for case study analysis.  Because there were no scalable models that included postsecondary institutions and few deep examples of collaboration for us to study, we initiated 2 action sites. 
  • We conducted a series of focus groups with leaders in the IDA Initiative, higher education, and philanthropic communities.


We identified all IDA practitioners in the country who offer education IDAs and who partner with postsecondary institutions to offer IDAs.  We interviewed the entire population which is approximately 50 individuals.  This first phase of the research was aimed at understanding current educationally-oriented IDAs offered across the country and any partnership efforts underway with postsecondary institutions.  In addition to interviewing IDA practitioners, we conducted 15 interviews with education leaders and policymakers to develop an understanding of their impression of IDAs before we moved to the case study and focus group work, which helped to design the next phases of research.

Case Studies:

We examined 3 cases that we believed might serve as models for expansion and 3 that face common challenges in greater depth in order to develop detailed models for expanding programs and for overcoming challenges.  Most of the case study sites contained multiple partnerships so the actual number of partnerships studied was 26.  The case studies examined a variety of issues that can impact promising practices ranging from policies, structures, culture and climate issues, and politics.  We wanted to understand what conditions had been helpful in moving the partnerships forward and what issues emerged that made partnerships slow down or fail in order to provide advice for making partnerships between these groups more fruitful.  We had a mix of rural and urban sites; youth and adult IDAs; and each site had a different size nonprofit, with a unique mission, varying approach to education IDAs, and different partnership arrangements.  Through these variations we hoped to examine how any of these program variations impacted the success of partnering or program design.

Action Case Sites:

We provided technical assistance to Community And Shelter Assistance Corp. of Oregon (CASA) to develop and implement a plan for offering a statewide IDA initiative.  We helped them to get memorandum of understanding in place with a set of postsecondary institutions.  We hoped to better understand the potential of scalable and statewide models through our work with CASA.  We also initiated an action case with the Foundation for Independent Higher Education (FIHE), a national nonprofit organization that supports private higher education.  We worked with them to gain support among their state officers to develop an AFI application.  This provided us the opportunity to follow a national model where the back-office work would be offered through the Washington, DC office and the local work would be administered through the state representatives and their local colleges. 

Focus groups:

We conducted 13 focus groups with leaders in the IDA Initiative, higher education, and philanthropic communities. The purpose of the focus groups was to examine the potential of education IDAs, particularly understanding postsecondary leaders views on the value and possibilities of IDAs, approaches to implementation, and ways to partner.  We also probed for challenges and possible models for overcoming identified challenges.  Lastly, we presented data from our interviews and case studies to obtain feedback on ways to address current challenges and expand educational IDAs through education partnerships.

USC Rossier School of Education
CHEPA: Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis

Final Report

View IDA-PAYS final report: Examining the potential of education IDAs