Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Evaluating the Effects of Say Yes to Education on Students' Post-Secondary Outcomes

Thursday, November 12, 2015 : 10:55 AM
Tuttle North (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Robert Bifulco, Ross Rubenstein and Hosung Sohn, Syracuse University
Say Yes to Education is an ambitious initiative that combines “place-based” college scholarships with intensive student supports during elementary and secondary school. In 2012, Buffalo, New York became the second school district to adopt the Say Yes district-wide reform. The Buffalo program includes a tiered scholarship component, requiring twelve years of attendance in the Buffalo Public Schools (BPS) for full tuition, and partial tuition scholarships for students spending less than twelve years in the BPS. Scholarships are available at both public in-state universities and 63 private institutions ranging from Ivy League universities to small liberal arts colleges. The tiered eligibility component is similar to other notable place-based scholarship programs, such as the Kalamazoo Promise, while the list of participating higher education institutions is generally broader than other similar programs. Moreover, unlike most other place-based scholarship programs, the Say Yes program includes a wide array of additional services, including summer and after-school programs, health and legal clinics, school social workers and program coordinators, and assistance with college financial aid applications.

In this paper, we estimate the first year impacts of Say Yes on high school graduation, college matriculation, and college matriculation among high school graduates.  We use student-level data from the BPS and from the National Student Clearinghouse to compare students in different cohorts passing through the same school.  We include a range of control variables and school fixed effects to ensure that estimates of the effect of Say Yes are based on comparison of cohorts exposed to Say Yes to earlier cohorts in the same school prior to Say Yes. Because the difference in treatment between cohorts is the entire Say Yes program, the effect estimates from this model reflect not only the impact of the Say Yes scholarship offer but also any effect of the additional services provided by the Say Yes program. The key assumption required to interpret the effect estimates as the causal impact of the Say Yes program is that differences between nearby cohorts in the same grades and schools are essentially random. 

More specifically, we examine whether a 12th grader in a given year graduated from high school that year, whether a 12th grader graduated and matriculated in college in the fall following high school graduation, and whether a high school graduate matriculated in college the following fall.  Results suggest that while the Say Yes program appears, in its early stages, to have had no effect on high school graduation, we find a significant and relatively large increase in college matriculation among students who did graduate from high school after the start of the program and that these effects are concentrated almost exclusively in two-year institutions. We find no evidence that students are shifting from two-year to four-year institutions in the wake of the scholarship offer.