University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Summer is fun, but the Fall holds Promise

In The View from the OEP on June 20, 2018 at 2:10 pm

El Dorado Promis logo

We’re reaching the middle of summer—the time when college dorm room furniture starts popping up in prominent store displays and kids run past shelves of notebooks on sale because it’s too soon to be thinking about going back to school. While we’d all love an endless summer, classes, homework, and late night studying will again be the norm for college students across the state. For many students and families, the start of college brings anxiety not just about schoolwork, but about the rising cost of tuition and fees. According to the College Board, 60% of Bachelor’s recipients in the 2015-16 school year graduated with some debt. Concern about college debt may deter students from attending college, or it may lead students to work instead of study while in college. Thanks to the El Dorado Promise, hundreds of students coming to campus won’t have this anxiety impacting their postsecondary decisions.

The El Dorado Promise, announced in 2007, guarantees a full scholarship to all students who attend El Dorado School District from kindergarten through 12th grade, and a partial scholarship to students who attend at least from 9th-12th grade. The scholarship is capped at the maximum cost of tuition fees for an in-state resident at any public university in Arkansas—in the 2017-18 school year, this was a little over $9,000/semester. Students can combine this scholarship with other forms of financial aid, like the Arkansas Lottery Scholarship or Pell Grants, up to the full cost of attendance at any accredited university in the country. The Promise has impacted thousands of students from El Dorado since its establishment by Murphy Oil in 2007, and has now been around long enough for us to be able to analyze its impact.

In a recent paper and policy brief, we at the OEP asked what impact the El Dorado Promise has had on students’ postsecondary outcomes. Specifically, we wanted to know whether the Promise increased the rate at which El Dorado graduates enrolled in college and completed a Bachelor’s degree. To do this, we worked with folks at the El Dorado Promise office and the National Student Clearinghouse to gather data on whether students had received a Promise scholarship, if they went to college, and if they earned a BA within 6 years of graduating high school.

We can’t know the impact of a program like the Promise just by looking at how postsecondary enrollment and graduation rates have changed over time, because there are multiple factors that impact students’ college decisions—for example, during the Great Recession more people went to college to delay entering the workforce, and as the economy gradually recovered more people went straight to work after high school. So, we conducted what’s called a difference-in-differences analysis. We compared students who were eligible for the Promise (e.g. attended the district from at least 9th-12th grade) with students who weren’t eligible for the Promise (e.g. transferred to El Dorado in 10th grade or later). We examined the difference in college enrollment and completion rates between these two groups before the Promise was introduced (students who graduated between 2004 and 2006) and the difference in enrollment and completion rates between these two groups after the Promise was introduced (between 2007 and 2016 for enrollment, and 2007 and 2011 for completion). The descriptive results are shown in Figure 1. From this, it looks like the Promise was associated with a 16.5 percentage point increase in enrollment. That’s great news for El Dorado students!

pre and post promise chart

But, we wanted to be confident in our results, since students who were and were not eligible for the Promise could have been different in other ways besides mobility. We put this basic analysis into a regression framework, so we could control for things like high school GPA and student demographics. When we did this, we found that the Promise led to an 11.4 percentage point increase in enrollment, and a 10.7 percentage point increase in 6-year BA completion! 

In past work by folks at the OEP, we’ve found that the El Dorado Promise attracted families to the area, increasing enrollment in El Dorado Public Schools, and that the Promise led to a change in culture throughout the district—students, teachers, and parents are more focused on ensuring all students are ready for college. These efforts are paying off—the Promise is helping students get to and through college!

There’s a lot to celebrate about summer vacation—getting to spend time with your kids and/or friends, a chance to sleep in, and a reason to get outside. But there’s also a lot to look forward to in the Fall—including, for many students, a Promising postsecondary experience.

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