Date of Graduation

5-2015

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Education Policy (PhD)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

Education Reform

Advisor

Gary W. Ritter

Committee Member

Patrick J. Wolf

Second Committee Member

Jay P. Greene

Keywords

Education; College scholarships; Financial aid; Promise programs

Abstract

The El Dorado Promise is a scholarship program that provides approximately $7,818 per year toward college tuition - for up to five years - to public high school graduates in El Dorado, Arkansas who have attended El Dorado schools since at least the ninth grade. The program was announced in January 2007, and students were able to use the college scholarships in the fall of 2007. School leaders in El Dorado hoped that the enhanced access to college would increase student interest, engagement, and achievement throughout the school district. In this study, I use one-to-one student-level matching to estimate the impacts of the El Dorado Promise on student achievement and high school graduation. I find positive overall achievement effects of the program in both math and literacy, a .12 to .15 standard deviation unit increase over the comparison group over a five-year period. Very few El Dorado students experienced the treatment over the maximum period of five years, with the average student experiencing 1.5 years of the treatment. Annual effects of the Promise ranged from 0.06 to 0.08 standard deviation units, meaning that El Dorado Promise students boasted test scores that were roughly 6 to 8 percent of a standard deviation better than their matched peers each year. Effects are larger for certain subgroups of students, particularly high-achieving students. However, a placebo test indicates that only math impacts can be attributed with high confidence to the introduction of the Promise. For graduation rates, I find mixed results, with some estimates producing largely null effects and others suggesting the Promise had a negative impact on high school graduation.

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