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IES Grant

Title: Getting Qualified High School Seniors to Enroll in College: An Experimental Study in Vermont
Center: NCER Year: 2008
Principal Investigator: Sacerdote, Bruce Awardee: National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)
Program: Postsecondary and Adult Education      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years Award Amount: $918,274
Type: Development and Innovation Award Number: R305A080132

Co-Principal Investigator: Scott Carrell (University of California, Davis)

Purpose: This project addresses high school seniors who are academically prepared for college but who choose not to apply. From earlier work, the researchers have identified a population of such students. They will develop and pilot a low cost late-intervention program to promote college going among academically able high school seniors. The intervention combines both counseling and financial incentive components. The program will be piloted with academically qualified high school seniors in the classes of 2008 and 2009 in Vermont.

Project Activities: The project will finish developing the counseling component of the intervention (which also includes financial incentives to apply to college) and then pilot the program with Vermont high school seniors. The researchers will identify academically able students in their senior year at Vermont's public high schools that are well qualified to attend college but have failed to apply. Next, half the high schools attended by these students will be randomly assigned to provide the intervention. Students attending the other half of the high schools will not receive the intervention. The students at the treatment high schools will receive extra college counseling and financial incentives to apply to college. Counselors will meet with students four or more times and the students will be offered a financial incentive to take the SAT (if they have not done so already) and a financial incentive to file a college application. Students at the treatment and control high schools will then be compared for college enrollment and one-year college retention rates.

Products: The expected outcomes of this research include a fully developed intervention for college-ready high school seniors, and published reports regarding the evidence for the intervention's impacts on college enrollment and one-year retention rates.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The project will take place in all the public high schools in the state of Vermont.

Population: Participants in the project include approximately 1600 academically qualified high school seniors (from the classes of 2008 and 2009) projected not to attempt to enter college after they graduate. Academically qualified students are defined as those students who score above the median in reading and math on the state standardized test known as the New England Common Assessment Program and students who score above the median PSAT score in their junior year of high school. Of these students, the ones who do not take the SAT or fail to submit their SAT to a college or university will be the study's population.

Intervention: The intervention consists of extra counseling and extra financial incentives to be offered to students. The Vermont Student Assistance Corporation (VSAC) is a statewide nonprofit organization that provides student counseling and student loans to Vermont residents. A VSAC outreach counselor will contact the Principal in each treatment school and set up appointments with the relevant students. The outreach counselor will discuss the benefits of a college degree and describe how to apply online to the University of Vermont and other four-year colleges in New England. The counselor will explain how to apply for the various financial aid options available. Then the counselor will explain the offer of the financial incentives to take the SAT or ACT and to complete and file a college application. If the student is interested, the counselor will arrange for follow up appointments to help ensure that the student actually takes the SAT and applies to college. The VSAC counselor will then arrange payment of the incentives.

Research Design and Methods: The researchers will use a randomized controlled trial to identify the causal effects of the intervention. The randomization of students into treatment and control groups will be done at the high school level. There are 68 public high schools in Vermont and 34 of these will be randomized into the treatment group and 34 into the control group.

Control Condition: Students in the control group will be those attending high schools that are not implementing the intervention. They will receive the standard college guidance counseling provided by their school.

Key Measures: Key outcome measures include student enrollment in college and student retention in college after one year of attendance.

Data Analytic Strategy: Regression techniques will be used to improve the statistical precision of the comparisons and to limit the potential impact of random differences in background characteristics across the groups. The impacts of the intervention will be estimated using probit models to determine whether the intervention increases the probability of students enrolling in college and staying in college for one year while controlling for other observable characteristics. Sub-analyses will examine the impact of having friends also taking part in the intervention.


Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Sacerdote, B. (2012). When the Saints go Marching out: Long-Term Outcomes for Student Evacuees From Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 4(1): 109–135.

Working paper

Carrell, S. E., and Sacerdote, S. E. (2013) Late Interventions Matter Too: The Case of College Coaching in New Hampshire. NBER Working Paper #19031.