Panel Paper: The Effects of the El Dorado Promise Scholarship On Academic and Economic Outcomes

Saturday, November 10, 2012 : 10:35 AM
International E (Sheraton Baltimore City Center Hotel)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Gary Ritter1, Jennifer Ash2, Martin Lueken1 and Lindsay Melia1, (1)University of Arkansas, (2)Abt Associates, Inc.

In January of 2007, El Dorado-based Murphy Oil announced the El Dorado Promise, which pays the entire cost of college tuition for any student who graduates from El Dorado Public Schools. The El Dorado Promise was the second promise-style program in the nation, modeled after the Kalamazoo Promise announced in 2005. Promise scholarships are intended as both an educational and economic development intervention. Theoretically, as an education intervention, the Promise will foster a “college-going” culture throughout the district that will consequently increase intermediary educational outcomes, like high school graduation and academic achievement as measured by standardized test scores, in addition to increasing college attainment. The theory behind the economic development portion of the Promise scholarships is that providing this educational opportunity will incentivize individuals and employers to locate in the area and increase the supply of educated workers. Positive economic outcomes would include a steadying or increase in previously declining enrollment, a rise in housing values, and a rise in median income. This evaluation will begin to answer to what extent the El Dorado Promise has accomplished its two primary objectives, making college more accessible for students and building up the economic base of El Dorado.

To determine the Promise scholarship’s impact on increasing college accessibility, we will evaluate college attendance rates using data from the National Student Clearinghouse. We use an interrupted time-series analysis to determine the impact of the Promise on college attendance and retention, comparing El Dorado’s enrollment and retention rates pre-Promise to post-Promise. We will use the same method to measure the impact of the Promise on high school graduation rates. We will also test the extent to which the achievement culture in the younger grades has improved based on student achievement on elementary and middle school test scores. We will compare Promise-eligible El Dorado students to students in similar nearby districts matched on pre-Promise achievement levels and demographics and test the extent to which Promise students academically grow faster than their peers.

To estimate the economic impact, we evaluate if there are changes in total enrollment and enrollment by race/ethnicity in the El Dorado School District. To assess the enrollment outcome measure, we again use an interrupted time series design to compare the enrollment trends before and after the announcement of the Promise.

Finally, we will also include a qualitative element to our evaluation by administering an “aspirations” survey to current middle and high school students in the El Dorado school system and in our comparison districts. The survey will ask students to assess their interest and expectation with regard to a college education. We expect that El Dorado students will exhibit higher levels of aspiration to attend college, since the Promise scholarship eases the financial burden of college attendance. 

Preliminary analyses have found that the introduction of the El Dorado Promise scholarship has led to increases in middle school test scores, a decrease in the high school drop-out rate, and a reversal of the decade-long downward trend in enrollment.