Assistant Professor of Public Policy, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Despite efforts by postsecondary institutions across the United States to foster success among low-income enrollees, income-based gaps in college completion continue to grow. In this paper we study the extent to which a multifaceted aid program at an elite public university affects postsecondary success as measured by graduation, credit accumulation, and academic performance. This program, called the Carolina Covenant, was started in 2004 and incorporates need-based, grant-heavy financial aid with an array of non-financial supports. In contrast to little or no impact for Covenant-eligible students in the 2004 to 2006 cohorts, we find positive and statistically significant effects on 4-year graduation rates (of about 8 percentage points) and cumulative, third- and fourth-year GPAs (of about 0.10 GPA points) for Covenant-eligible students in the cohorts of 2007 to 2010. Given the expansion of academic and social supports in the more recent period, our findings suggest that increases in need-based aid for low-income, high-ability students stand the best chance of affecting postsecondary outcomes such as college graduation when coupled with strong non-financial supports.