Closing the Gap: The Effect of a Targeted, Tuition-Free Promise on College Choices of High-Achieving, Low-Income Students

76 Pages Posted: 11 Dec 2018

See all articles by Susan M. Dynarski

Susan M. Dynarski

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy; University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - School of Education

CJ Libassi

College Board

Katherine Michelmore

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor; Syracuse University

Stephanie Owen

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor

Date Written: December 2018

Abstract

Low-income students, even those with strong academic credentials, are unlikely to attend a highly selective college. With a field experiment, we test an intervention to increase enrollment of low-income students at the highly selective University of Michigan. We contact students (as well as their parents and principals) with an encouragement to apply and a promise of four years of free tuition and fees upon admission. Materials emphasize that this offer is not contingent on completing aid applications (e.g., the FAFSA or PROFILE). Treated students were more than twice as likely to apply to (67 percent vs. 26 percent) and enroll at (27 percent vs. 12 percent) the University of Michigan. There was no diversion from schools as (or more) selective as UM. The enrollment effect of 15 percentage points (pp) comprises students who would otherwise attend a less selective, four-year college (7 pp), a community college (4 pp), or no college (4 pp). Effects persist through two years of follow-up. The intervention closed by half the income gaps in college choice among Michigan's high-achieving students. We conclude that an encouragement to apply, paired with a promise of aid, when communicated to students and influential adults, can substantially close income gaps in college choices.

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Suggested Citation

Dynarski, Susan M. and Libassi, CJ and Michelmore, Katherine and Owen, Stephanie, Closing the Gap: The Effect of a Targeted, Tuition-Free Promise on College Choices of High-Achieving, Low-Income Students (December 2018). NBER Working Paper No. w25349. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3298828

Susan M. Dynarski (Contact Author)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
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University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy ( email )

735 South State Street, Weill Hall
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - School of Education ( email )

610 East University Avenue
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1259
United States

CJ Libassi

College Board

Katherine Michelmore

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor ( email )

500 S. State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States

Syracuse University ( email )

900 S. Crouse Avenue
Syracuse, NY 13244-2130
United States

Stephanie Owen

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor ( email )

500 S. State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States

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