Recent work highlights the challenge of scaling evidence-based strategies to achieve social policy objectives. We evaluate, through a randomized control trial, a national financial incentive program designed to increase student engagement with college advising and completion of college and financial aid milestones that prior experimental studies demonstrate contribute to increased college enrollment and success. We find substantial positive effects of the incentive program on each of the incented behaviors: Treated students were more likely to engage regularly with a college advisor; apply to well-matched colleges and universities; and meet with an advisor to review their financial aid awards and discuss college costs. Yet students randomly offered the incentives were no more likely to enroll at higher-quality colleges and universities, despite being high in the distribution of college entrance exam scores and from a socioeconomic background that many institutions indicate is central to their diversity goals. Student responses to a survey administered the summer and fall after high school suggest that lack of admission to the most selective institutions, lack of affordability at selective institutions to which students were admitted, and student preferences to attend institutions closer to home explain the lack of enrollment effects.
financial incentives, college advising, college success, scale, experimental evidence
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