Case Study

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

Although college enrollment rates have increased substantially over the last several decades, socioeconomic inequalities in college completion have actually widened over time. A critical question, therefore, is how to support low-income and first-generation students to succeed in college after they matriculate. We investigate the impact of the Dell Scholars Program, which provides a combination of generous financial support and individualized advising to scholarship recipients before and throughout their post-secondary enrollment. The program’s design is motivated by a theory of action that, in order to meaningfully increase the share of lower-income students who earn a college degree, it is necessary both to address financial constraints students face and to provide ongoing support for the academic, cultural and other challenges that students experience during their college careers. We isolate the unique impact of the program on college completion by capitalizing on an arbitrary cutoff in the program’s algorithmic selection process. Using a regression discontinuity design, we find that although being named a Dell Scholar has no impact on initial college enrollment or early college persistence, scholars at the margin of eligibility are significantly more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree on-time or six years after high school graduation. These impacts are sizable and represent a nearly 25 percent or greater increase in both four- and six-year bachelor’s attainment. The program is resource intensive. Yet, back-of-the-envelope calculations indicate that the Dell Scholars Program has a positive rate of return.