More than Dollars for Scholars: The Impact of the Dell Scholars Program on College Access, Persistence and Degree Attainment

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Date and Time: 
Monday, September 10, 2018
2:00 pm – 3:30 pm
Lindsay Page

One decade after high school completion, only 14 percent of low-income students in the US have attained a bachelor’s degree, compared to 60 percent or more of their higher income peers. Such socioeconomic inequalities in college completion have widened over time. A critical question is how to support low-income and first-generation students to achieve college success.  Barriers spanning multiple domains, including poor academic preparation, financial constraints, and the challenge of acclimating socially and emotionally to a college environment can all hamper progress. Yet, rigorous evidence on supporting students to navigate these obstacles often suffers limited scope, with efforts addressing one type of barrier in isolation. Although the narrow definition of interventions is beneficial from a research and causal attribution standpoint, in reality students’ struggles are rarely limited to a singular domain.

I present evidence on the Dell Scholars Program, run by the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, which supports low-income, primarily first-generation college-goers more comprehensively by providing both scholarship aid and ongoing, proactive support and assistance “to address all of the emotional, lifestyle, and financial challenges that may prevent” college completion. Relying on strict cut-offs in the selection of Dell Scholars and by comparing selected students to peers with similar academic, demographic, and socioeconomic characteristics, I present quasi-experimental evidence that the program meaningfully improves college performance, persistence and success for the students selected as Dell Scholars. Although it serves only a few thousand students at any given time, I discuss how the program’s innovative structure makes it a potential model for improving the effectiveness of current investments to increase college success for low-income and first-generation students throughout the US. This talk is based on joint work with Stacy Kehoe, Benjamin Castleman and Gumilang Sahadewo.