Using a Merit-Based Scholarship Program to Increase Rates of College Enrollment in an Urban School District

The Case of the Pittsburgh Promise

Published in: Journal of Student Financial Aid, v. 45, Iss. 2, Article 2, 2015

Posted on RAND.org on December 28, 2015

by Robert Bozick, Gabriella C. Gonzalez, John Engberg

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The Pittsburgh Promise is a scholarship program that provides $5,000 per year toward college tuition for public high school graduates in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania who earned a 2.5 GPA and a 90% attendance record. This study used a difference-in-difference design to assess whether the introduction of the Promise scholarship program directly influenced changes in rates of college enrollment among students graduating from Pittsburgh public high schools in years immediately following the launch of the program. Becker's (1964) standard human capital investment model, which predicts that youth make cost-benefit calculations to guide their college enrollment decisions, provides the framework for the analysis. Our analysis of data on two graduating classes prior to the scholarship's implementation (2005-06 and 2006-07) and three years following the scholarship's implementation (2007-08, 2008-09, and 2009-10) yielded mixed results. Findings showed that the scholarship had no direct effect on the overall rate of college enrollment. However, scholarship-eligible graduates were more likely to attend four-year schools in the years in which the scholarship was available.

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