The Link Between Student Success and Financial Aid

We all know how important scholarships and financial aid are to students who cannot afford to pay for college, but can this monetary help also help students to perform better and have a greater chance of success? A study by MDRC is investigating that question as a component of its Performance-Based Scholarship Demonstration. The study is investigating six nationwide programs and is not yet complete, but is already showing some results. Early information is showing that students who receive funding that requires certain performance levels for continuance causes students to work harder and to achieve more than those who have no such requirements.

About the Study

The organization tested a program in New York in which students received scholarships without counseling and support. The program included students who needed some developmental education and were from low-income families. The study examined students’ performance and behavior at the time they first received scholarships and over the next two years to see the effect on performance. Money was distributed periodically as students met academic and enrollment standards. One group received $1,300 over two semesters while another group received $3,900 over three semesters and a third set who received no funding at all.

The results showed that more students maintained full-time enrollment while eligible for funds, but the group that had funds coming after the summer semester showed a greater percentage of continued enrollment. Long-term, no group showed an increase in earned credits or enrollment. At one of the schools, however, there was a greater level of achievement because students had access to information regarding support services and counseling in the facility that housed the scholarships.

Early Findings

While the study is still in its infancy, early results show that the availability of support and counseling may play a dramatic part in the level of student success. While the scholarships themselves did not appear to make a lasting difference, this could be due to a number of factors. The scholarship amounts may have been too small to significantly help low-income students. College costs and personal responsibilities, such as work and childcare, may have also played a part in the results.

College costs must be considered in trying to increase completion and access rates, but these early results show that providing funding alone may not be enough. In addition, schools must make counseling and other support services available, especially to low-income students who face many more struggles.


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