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Performance-Based Scholarships Move Dial on College Success

While record numbers of students are enrolling in college, just over half of students who go to college full time in hopes of getting a four-year degree finish in six years.

This has educators and policymakers exploring a number of innovative ways to boost academic success. A new study shows promise for one approach: performance-based scholarships.

Rather than giving merit aid based on earlier accomplishments, these scholarships are incentives for low-income students to do well in college. The money is contingent on attaining academic benchmarks and is paid directly to the student—not to the institutions.

MDRC, the nonprofilt that researches public policy with offices in New York and California, looked at performance-based scholarship demonstrations in six states and found the modest but positive effects on markers of academic success, such as credits earned. If the programs reveal lasting effects after the scholarships are no longer available, researchers hope it might lead to higher graduation rates and increased earnings. MDRC plans to continue to follow these programs and expand the demonstration to other states.

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