ATLANTA – Programs that provide generous college tuition guarantees can increase college-going rates and the likelihood students will remain for a second year of college, according to an article published in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management.
For their research, Robert Bifulco of Syracuse University, Ross Rubenstein at Georgia State University and Hosung Sohn of Chung-Ang University, examined outcomes of the Say Yes to Education program that has operated in the Buffalo Public Schools in upstate New York since 2012.
They found that college enrollment among scholarship-eligible students in Buffalo increased by 20 percent after the start of the program, which also led to an increase of 16 percent in the percentage of students persisting into a second year of college.
“Say Yes to Education is among a growing number of place-based or ‘Promise’ scholarship programs operating in cities and states around the United States,” said Rubenstein, who holds the Dan E. Sweat Distinguished Chair in Educational and Community Policy in Georgia State’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies.
The comprehensive district reform program offers free tuition at all public colleges and universities in New York State to any student attending the Buffalo Public Schools (BPS) from kindergarten through high school graduation.
Students enrolled in the BPS by 9th grade can receive scholarships of up to 65 percent of tuition costs. Unlike many similar programs, Say Yes-eligible students with family incomes below $75,000 can also receive free tuition at about 100 private universities around the country, while students with family incomes above $75,000 can receive a grant worth up to $5,000.
The program also includes numerous support services in schools, including help with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, summer school, after school programs, legal clinics and mentoring.
“Our research suggests that offering a free college guarantee can encourage more students to attend college,” said Rubenstein, “but perhaps more important, these new college attendees are not simply dropping out quickly but are persisting into a second year of college.”
Though Say Yes to Education offers tuition subsidies at both two- and four-year institutions, and at in-state and out-of-state schools, the enrollment increases were concentrated at four-year universities and those in New York state, where the additional financial aid awards are the largest. The study also finds larger enrollment increases at more selective colleges, and among students attending high schools in the middle-third of the poverty distribution.
This study follows previous research by Bifulco, Rubenstein and Sohn that examined the Say Yes to Education program’s community revitalization effects. Ongoing research will examine its effects on college graduation rates among scholarship-eligible students.
Public Management & Policy
Ross Rubenstein is Professor and Dan E. Sweat Distinguished Chair in Educational and Community Policy in the Department of Public Management and Policy in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University. He was previously Professor of Public Administration and International Affairs in the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, where he served as Associate Dean and Chair of the Department of Public Administration and International Affairs from 2011-2015. His research focuses on public finance and education policy, including funding equity and adequacy in education, public sector performance and efficiency measurement, budgeting and resource allocation in school districts, and college scholarship programs.