Marginal Effects of Merit Aid for Low-Income Students

Peer-reviewed Publication

Joshua Angrist, David Autor, Amanda Pallais

December 2021

Financial aid from the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation (STBF) provides comprehensive support to a college population similar to that served by a host of state aid programs. In conjunction with STBF, the researchers randomly assigned aid awards to thousands of Nebraska high school graduates from low-income, minority, and first-generation college households. Randomly assigned STBF awards boost bachelor’s (BA) degree completion for students targeting four-year schools by about 8 points. Degree gains are concentrated among four-year applicants who would otherwise have been unlikely to pursue a four-year program. Degree effects are mediated by award-induced increases in credits earned towards a BA in the first year of college. The extent of initial four-year college engagement explains impact differences by target campus and across covariate subgroups. The projected lifetime earnings impact of awards exceeds marginal educational spending for all of the subgroups examined in the study. Projected earnings gains exceed funder costs for urban students and for students with relatively weak academic preparation.

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