How promising are college promise programmes?

The Detroit Promise is a US school programme administered by the Detroit Regional Chamber  that provides the city’s high school graduates with scholarships for state-funded universities and community colleges. To encourage pupils to stay in school once enrolled and to improve their academic outcomes, the Chamber and MDRC created the Detroit Promise Path. This initiative adds four components to the existing scholarship programme: campus coaches who help pupils navigate academic and personal issues, monthly financial support contingent on meeting with coaches, enhanced summer engagement and monitoring and messages informed by behavioural science through a management information system created by MDRC.

MDRC is evaluating the Detroit Promise Path using a randomised control trial design. In a new report, Alyssa Ratledge presents early findings from a pilot cohort of pupils who enrolled in autumn 2016. According to the report:

  • The Detroit Promise Path was implemented with fidelity to the model and participation was high. More than 95 percent of pupils responded to coaches’ outreach and two-thirds of enrolled pupils met with coaches as directed.
  • Pupils appreciate the programme. Ninety-six percent of surveyed pupils who had been in contact with a coach said the programme was “valuable” or “very valuable” to them.
  • The programme had a sizeable impact on enrolment in the second semester and on full-time enrolment in the first and second semesters.

Source: Enhancing promise programs to improve college access and success (July 2017), MDRC

Improving education in the developing world

New research, published in Science, explores what improves education in the developing world. The authors reviewed evidence from randomised evaluations. The research showed that making school more financially attractive can increase participation, for example, by providing financial support for poor mothers and through scholarships. Improving the health of children and providing information on how earnings would rise with education can increase schooling even more cost-effectively. Programmes designed to improve teacher performance and school accountability were more context-dependent. Pedagogical reforms that match teaching to pupils’ learning levels were found to be highly cost effective, as were reforms to improve accountability and incentives. “More of the same” solutions, such as more textbooks, had little effect on achievement.

Source: The Challenge of Education and Learning in the Developing World (2013), Science, 340(6130).

Do scholarships to private primary schools increase college enrolment?

This randomised study examines the post-secondary education (college) enrolment of pupils in New York who participated in a voucher experiment at elementary (primary) school. In the spring of 1997, the New York School Choice Scholarships Foundation Program offered scholarships to low-income families to support their elementary-age children to attend private schools.

For the current study, researchers from the Brown Center on Eduation Policy at the Brookings Institute and Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance obtained pupil information that allowed them to identify over 99 per cent of the pupils who participated in the original experiment and follow up on their college enrolment. Findings showed no overall impacts of the scholarships on college enrolment, but did find large, statistically significant positive impacts on the enrolment rate of African-American pupils in the study. Specifically, the researchers report significant increases in full-time college attendance, enrolment in private four-year colleges, and enrolment in selective four-year colleges for this group of pupils.

Source: The effects of school vouchers on college enrollment: Experimental evidence from New York City (2012), Brookings