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College scholarships have long played an important role in ensuring access to post-secondary education in the U.S. However, researchers and practitioners are increasingly recognizing the imperative of post-secondary persistence and completion as well. Philanthropic funders can restructure their scholarship awards to improve post-secondary persistence and completion, in addition to access.

Top Takeaways

  1. Grant aid has a positive effect on post-secondary completion: grants appear to be the most helpful form of aid, although the data is more robust for 4-year than for 2-year institutions.
  2. Accumulated debt hinders degree attainment: students' aversion to debt can discourage enrollment, increase time-to-degree, and have a negative effect on degree completion.
  3. Too many hours spent working slows or halts students' progress towards a credential: while work-study funding for on-campus jobs provides many of the same positive features of grant aid in encouraging persistence and completion, the attraction of more highly paid off-campus jobs can lead students to take longer to complete a degree or to not complete a degree at all.
It is particularly important to understand ways in which the structure of financial aid helps or hinders students in their efforts to complete a degree so policymakers can best allocate scarce resources, philanthropic funders can leverage their grantmaking to greatest effect, and students (and their families) can maximize and optimize financial aid packages and have the greatest opportunity to enroll in and complete a post-secondary education.