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Randomized Evaluation of Post-Secondary Financial Aid and Support Services
Initial registration date
November 23, 2013
April 09, 2015 1:43 PM EDT
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Other Primary Investigator(s)
Additional Trial Information
Is financial aid in higher education an effective use of funds? Research on this question has been complicated both by selection bias and the high implicit tax rates imposed by an array of over-lapping need-based programs. We are conducting a randomized evaluation of private post-secondary aid and support services for low-income students applying to public colleges and universities. The program we studied, which primarily serves a Pell-eligible population, distributes $20 million in aid to over 3,000 students annually. Unlike Pell, however, award criteria included indicators of college readiness. Outcomes of interest include continuation and completion rates, completion times, academic performance, and degrees obtained. Broadly, we are interested in the following two questions: 1) How does financial support affect the educational attainment of recipients? 2) How do support services affect the educational attainment of scholarship recipients?
After the initial assessment of educational attainment outcomes, we are interested in following up on labor market outcomes, such as wages and credit. Registration Citation
The interventions of interest are scholarships and support services. For the 2012 cohort, there is one treatment group that receives a traditional scholarship. This scholarship covers the cost of tuition and fees at public, in-state colleges and universities. At eligible campuses, students who receive the traditional scholarships receive comprehensive support services (e.g., tutoring, special courses, counseling) at participating campuses.
For the 2013, 2014, and 2015 cohorts, we randomize among traditional scholarships and aid-only scholarships.
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date
Primary Outcomes (end points)
Enrollment, Credit hours, GPA, credit history
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
First, we disqualify students who are ineligible for the scholarship based on their Estimated Financial Contribution (EFC) from the FAFSA Student Aid Report (SAR) and Grade Point Average (GPA). Next, the scholarship provider reviews applications to award scholarships to those students who clearly deserve the scholarship. Simultaneously, reviewers decline applications that do not reflect the values of the scholarship organization.
Following the review process, there is a sizable group of applicants on the margin. While there are not enough scholarships to go to each student, reviewers agree that students in this group equally deserve the support. These applicants are stratified by the first-choice school listed on their application. We then randomize the scholarship applicants within each stratum into treatment and control groups:
1) Non-recipients (control)
2) Traditional Scholarship recipients, eligible for support services at providing schools
3) Scholarship-Only recipients, ineligible for support services related to their scholarships*
*The third group applies only to the 2013, 2014, and 2015 cohorts.
Experimental Design Details
Randomization by computer, using stratification by school preference
Was the treatment clustered?
Sample size: planned number of clusters
Sample size: planned number of observations
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
1500 traditional scholarship awards (eligible for support services); 450 scholarship-only awards; 2200 control
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
Percentage: 80 percent power used for all calculations. 1 Year Enrollment: .022 (2.2 percentage point) difference, SD: .15; Credit hours in year 1: 1.2 credit hours, SD: 7.02; GPA in year 1: .15 GPA points, SD: .91
INSTITUTIONAL REVIEW BOARDS (IRBs)
National Bureau of Economic Research Human Subjects Committee
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number
MIT Committe On the Use of Humans as Experimental Subjects (COUHES)
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number