Panel Paper: Using a Merit-Based Scholarship Program to Increase Rates of College Enrollment

Saturday, November 10, 2012 : 10:55 AM
International E (Sheraton Baltimore City Center Hotel)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Gabriella Gonzalez, Robert Bozick and John Engberg, RAND Corporation

Implemented in 2008, the Pittsburgh Promise – a merit based-scholarship program in the City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – provides $5,000 per year for up to four years of postsecondary schooling for graduates who attended a Pittsburgh public or charter school continuously since 9th grade, maintained a grade point average of 2.5 and an attendance record of 90 percent throughout high school. Our study is based on 8,718 students who graduated with a diploma from one of the ten public high schools in Pittsburgh in one of five years: 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010. We combined two data sources: secondary enrollment data maintained by the Pittsburgh Public School District and postsecondary enrollment data maintained by the National Student Clearinghouse. The former data set was used to identify students who graduated from Pittsburgh Public Schools who met the three eligibility criteria for the scholarship and the latter data set was used to identify whether these graduates enrolled in college after finishing high school. Using a difference-in-difference approach, which compares scholarship eligible students in the years prior to its availability (2006 and 2007) with scholarship eligible students in the years in which it was available (2008, 2009, and 2010), we find that the introduction of the Promise had no direct effect on the overall rate of college enrollment across the period of our study. However, when we disaggregated rates of enrollment by school type, we found that eligible graduates were more likely to attend four-year schools in the years in which the scholarship was available. Specifically, we find that the difference between Promise eligible and non-eligible students in attending a four-year school (relative to not enrolling at all) was six percentage points higher in the years in which the Promise was available than in the years before it was available. As one of the first Promise scholarship programs to receive support and funding for a full-scale evaluation, our findings are instructive in gauging the extent of behavioral change realistically expected in the formative years of a merit-based scholarship initiative in an economically disadvantaged, urban school district.