Research in Higher Education

, Volume 57, Issue 6, pp 653–681 | Cite as

Does Financial Aid Impact College Student Engagement?

Evidence from the Gates Millennium Scholars Program
  • Angela BoatmanEmail author
  • Bridget Terry Long


While increasing numbers of students have gained access to higher education during the last several decades, postsecondary persistence and academic success remain serious concerns with only about half of college entrants completing degrees. Given concerns about affordability and resources, policymakers and administrators wonder how financial aid impacts student outcomes, particularly among low-income students. We investigate this question looking at a range of outcomes beyond just academic performance by focusing on the Gates Millennium Scholars (GMS) Program, a generous grant program that provided a renewable scholarship to talented undergraduate students of color with financial need. We isolate the impact of financial aid on academic and community engagement by comparing the outcomes of GMS recipients to similar non-recipients who were likely to have comparably-high levels of motivation and potential for success. With information about the application process, we use similar applicants not selected for the award as a comparison group. We then employ a Regression Discontinuity research design to provide causal estimates of the effects of GMS. The results suggest that GMS recipients were more likely to engage with peers on school work outside of class. Additionally, GMS recipients were much more likely to participate in community service activities and marginally more likely to participate in other extracurricular activities than their non-GMS peers.


Financial aid Student engagement College success Community service 



We thank the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The Institute for Higher Education Policy for their support and the data. We also thank Melissa Bert for early help with the data and comments, and participants at the Student Financial Aid Research Network (SFARN) and Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE) conferences who provided useful insights on the mechanisms and methodologies in this paper. The views contained herein are not necessarily those of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. All errors, omissions, and conclusions are our own.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Peabody CollegeVanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA
  2. 2.Harvard Graduate School of Education and NBERCambridgeUSA

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