Panel Paper: Estimating the Impact of the El Dorado Promise on High School Outcomes

Thursday, November 6, 2014 : 9:30 AM
Enchantment II (Convention Center)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Jennifer Ash, Abt Associates, Inc. and Gary Ritter, University of Arkansas
In January of 2007, the El Dorado-based Murphy Oil Corporation announced to create the El Dorado Promise, a scholarship program that pays up to the entire cost of college tuition for all students who have been continuously enrolled in the El Dorado Public School District since at least the 9th grade. The El Dorado Promise was among the first Promise-style programs in the nation, modeled after the Kalamazoo Promise announced in 2005.

While Promise scholarships are intended as both an educational and economic development intervention, our work focuses on the educational impact of the El Dorado Promise. As an educational intervention, Promise scholarships’ primary purpose is to reduce students’ financial barriers to attending college, resulting in increased college enrollment and attainment. Consequently, the Promise is hypothesized to foster a “college-going” culture throughout the district that will consequently improve intermediary educational outcomes, like high school graduation and academic achievement of high school, middle school and even elementary school students. Theoretically, the Promise may work by impacting two different parties: scholarship-eligible students, who may increase their effort and educational aspirations, and El Dorado School District and its personnel, who may start new programs and increase effort in order to support the Promise.

Our first study on the El Dorado program investigated the potential improvement in the district’s overall academic environment associated with the development of the Promise.  In this study, all El Dorado students in grades 3-7 in the year prior to the Promise’s announcement were compared against matched peers (one-to-one student level matches) with similar characteristics from similar school districts. In this prior study, we sought to assess the impact of the Promise on the overall academic environment in the El Dorado School District after the Promise; the effect could be a combination of change in students’ motivations or a change in district personnel’s practices. Ultimately, we found a positive impact of the Promise on the achievement of El Dorado students in both 8th grade math (d= 0.15), 8th grade literacy (d= 0.18), and 11th grade literacy (d= 0.10).

The current study addresses a more targeted question: does the opportunity to receive the Promise scholarship money lead to increases in graduation rate for eligible students? This study uses two methods to estimate the impact of the El Dorado Promise on high school graduation during two time periods. To estimate the short-run impacts on graduation, we use a difference-in-difference approach to compare Promise-eligible and ineligible students in “pre-Promise” years (2005 and 2006) with eligible and ineligible students in “post-Promise” years (2008 and 2009). To estimate the impact of the Promise on the 2011 and 2012 graduating classes, we employ a matched comparison group design, comparing the high school graduation of Promise-eligible El Dorado students to those of a matched comparison group of similar students in similar districts.