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Work-First or Work-Only: Welfare Reform, State Policy, and Access to Postsecondary Education

Christopher Mazzeo, Sara Rab and Susan Eachus
The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
Vol. 586, Community Colleges: New Environments, New Directions (Mar., 2003), pp. 144-171
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1049724
Page Count: 28
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Work-First or Work-Only: Welfare Reform, State Policy, and Access to Postsecondary Education
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Abstract

As a result of the 1996 welfare reform-Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF)-the number of welfare recipients enrolled in postsecondary education has decreased dramatically. The new welfare law also gives states significant discretion to support and even promote postsecondary education for low-income adults; consequently, state policies regarding access vary widely. This study uses qualitative data from three states to examine the sources and consequences of state variation in access to postsecondary education for disadvantaged individuals. Our cross-state comparison shows that competing ideas about welfare, work and the role of education in the lives of welfare recipients help structure and shape political debates, and policy outcomes, in the each of the states. Ideas influenced policies via four key channels: the state human service agency; advocacy organizations; the persistence of the "work-first" idea within implementation processes; and the power of policy "signals" to drive state welfare reform.

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