WWC review of this study

Optimal college financial aid: Theory and evidence on free college, early commitment, and merit aid from an eight-year randomized trial (EdWorkingPaper: 21-393).

Harris, D. N., & Mills, J. (2021). Annenberg Institute at Brown University. https://doi.org/10.26300/wz1m-v526. Retrieved from: https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED618296

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
     examining 
    4,693
     Students
    , grades
    9-PS

Reviewed: December 2021

No statistically significant positive
findings
Meets WWC standards without reservations
Academic achievement outcomes—Indeterminate effects found
Outcome
measure
Comparison Period Sample Intervention
mean
Comparison
mean
Significant? Improvement
    index
Evidence
tier

Cumulative GPA

Merit Aid vs. Business as usual

4 Years

Full sample;
2,291 students

1.77

1.80

No

--
More Outcomes
Show Supplemental Findings

Grade Point Average (2.5 or above)

Merit Aid vs. Business as usual

4 Years

Full sample;
3,158 students

24.86

26.34

No

--
College Degree Attainment outcomes—Indeterminate effects found
Outcome
measure
Comparison Period Sample Intervention
mean
Comparison
mean
Significant? Improvement
    index
Evidence
tier

College completion

Merit Aid vs. Business as usual

8 Years

Full sample;
3,624 students

2.35

1.95

No

--
More Outcomes
Show Supplemental Findings

College completion (2 year institution)

Merit Aid vs. Business as usual

8 Years

Full sample;
3,624 students

1.76

1.18

No

--

College completion (4 year institution)

Merit Aid vs. Business as usual

8 Years

Full sample;
3,624 students

0.56

0.73

No

--
Earnings outcomes—Indeterminate effects found
Outcome
measure
Comparison Period Sample Intervention
mean
Comparison
mean
Significant? Improvement
    index
Evidence
tier

Earnings

Merit Aid vs. Business as usual

6 Years

Full sample;
3,624 students

5.04

5.06

No

--
Employment outcomes—Indeterminate effects found
Outcome
measure
Comparison Period Sample Intervention
mean
Comparison
mean
Significant? Improvement
    index
Evidence
tier

Ever employed

Merit Aid vs. Business as usual

6 Years

Full sample;
3,624 students

60.74

60.15

No

--
General Literacy Achievement outcomes—Indeterminate effects found
Outcome
measure
Comparison Period Sample Intervention
mean
Comparison
mean
Significant? Improvement
    index
Evidence
tier

Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) Measures of Academic Progress (MAP): Reading Achievement

Merit Aid vs. Business as usual

4 Years

Full sample;
1,243 students

-0.02

-0.02

No

--
General Mathematics Achievement outcomes—Indeterminate effects found
Outcome
measure
Comparison Period Sample Intervention
mean
Comparison
mean
Significant? Improvement
    index
Evidence
tier

Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) Measures of Academic Progress (MAP): Mathematics Score

Merit Aid vs. Business as usual

4 Years

Full sample;
1,212 students

-0.04

-0.06

No

--
High School Completion outcomes—Indeterminate effects found
Outcome
measure
Comparison Period Sample Intervention
mean
Comparison
mean
Significant? Improvement
    index
Evidence
tier

Graduated with any credential

Merit Aid vs. Business as usual

4 Years

Full sample;
3,944 students

57.22

55.03

No

--
School Attendance outcomes—Indeterminate effects found
Outcome
measure
Comparison Period Sample Intervention
mean
Comparison
mean
Significant? Improvement
    index
Evidence
tier

Attendance rate

Merit Aid vs. Business as usual

4 Years

Full sample;
3,164 students

0.81

0.81

No

--


Evidence Tier rating based solely on this study. This intervention may achieve a higher tier when combined with the full body of evidence.

Characteristics of study sample as reported by study author.


  • 11% English language learners

  • Female: 49%
    Male: 51%

  • Urban
    • B
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    Wisconsin
  • Race
    Asian
    6%
    Black
    62%
    Native American
    1%
    Other or unknown
    20%
    White
    11%
  • Ethnicity
    Hispanic    
    20%
    Not Hispanic or Latino    
    80%

Setting

The study included 36 high schools serving ninth through twelfth grade students in Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). Twenty of the 36 schools were traditional public schools and the others were charter schools.

Study sample

The students in the original assigned sample were 62% Black, 6% Asian, and 11% White. A fifth of students (20%) were Hispanic. Students were an average of 15 years old, and about half were female (49%). The majority (83%) qualified for free and reduced-price lunch, 21% were special education students, and 11% were English learners.

Intervention Group

The Degree Project is a performance-based scholarship. Students receive a $12,000 merit-based scholarship to cover the costs of college. To receive the scholarship, students have to graduate from any MPS high school within four years of starting ninth grade, maintain a 2.5 or higher cumulative GPA (C+/B-), attend school 90% of the time, complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in their senior year and each year of college, and enroll in college within 15 months of their high school graduation.

Comparison Group

Students in comparison schools did not receive the $12,000 scholarships. They were still eligible to apply for other scholarships.

Support for implementation

The lead author designed the program in partnership with the program funder and operator, the Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation and Affiliates, and MPS. The lead author also selected the intervention schools using data from MPS.

 

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