Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Education Policy (PhD)

Degree Level



Education Reform


Robert Costrell

Committee Member

Sarah McKenzie

Second Committee Member

Jonathan Mills


Arkansas, Postsecondary attainment, Postsecondary enrollment, Merit scholarship, college completion, college success measures, High school GPA, secondary school academic metrics


Postsecondary education has become a popular option for students, as evidenced by increases in enrollment over the last two decades. However, while enrollment has increased, completion has not. It is therefore important to investigate the factors that could lead to students’ enrollment, persistence, and completion of college. This dissertation examines two broad topics over three chapters. Chapters 1 and 2 focus examine the impact of a policy change that resulted in backloading the award disbursement of a state-wide merit-based scholarship program in Arkansas on college enrollment and success. Chapter 3 examines factors that influence the predictive nature of high school GPA and college admission exam score.

Chapter 1 finds that changing the award disbursement to a backloaded structure has no statistically significant impact on overall college enrollment in the state of Arkansas, compared to other similar southern states. While we find no statistically significant impact, the estimates trend negative; however we are not able to determine if this is due to the overall award reduction, or the backloaded structure. This suggests states should use caution when considering implementing a backloaded payout structure, as it has the potential for adverse effects.

In chapter 2, focusing examining the same award disbursement policy change, we find no significant change in outcomes for students qualifying for the scholarship after the award disbursement change, relative to those who qualified for the scholarship prior to the change. Simply, we do not find evidence that switching to a backloaded payout structure significantly impacted persistence, college GPA, or the likelihood of graduation within four years.

Finally, as high school GPA and score on college admission tests are used in college admission decisions, and qualification for scholarships, chapter 3 explores the predictive nature of these high school academics on college outcomes, and how they change by high school type. I find that certain high school characteristics change the relationship between student high school academics, and college outcomes.