U-M study finds tuition-free promise to high-achieving, low-income students increases recruitment

Students were twice as likely to apply after personalized free tuition promises

By Sarah M. Parlette - Associated Producer

Students cheer on the Wolverines at the first home game of the season on Sept. 8, 2018 (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - A University of Michigan study has found that high-achieving, low-income high schoolers were twice as likely to apply to undergraduate programs at the U-M after receiving personalized financial aid promises.

On top of being more likely to apply, students were also twice as likely to enroll in a program, according to research by U-M professor of public policy, education and economics Susan Dynarski.

For the study, students and parents were sent personalized mailing packages encouraging enrollment and offering financial aid, like a HAIL scholarship, to those who applied and were admitted to the U-M. The offer was made regardless of whether or not they had already filled out other financial aid forms like FAFSA. 

Working with assistant professor at Syracuse University Katherine Michelmore, College Board senior policy research analyst C.J. Libassi and U-M doctoral student Stephanie Owen, Dynarski found that 67 percent of high school seniors promised some form of financial aid applied (as opposed to the 26 percent of students who did not receive promises) and 26 percent of those enrolled.

The study demonstrates that offers of financial assistance, even before application, encouraged students to apply to universities they thought were out of their reach. 

The authors of the study also helped to design U-M's High Achieving Involved Leaders (HAIL) scholarship program, which promises four years of tuition-free enrollment and other financial aid for students meeting program criteria -- a HAIL scholarship is estimated to offer about $60,000 in aid.

The HAIL scholarship is just one form of financial aid offered to students and has helped to influence the U-M's Go Blue Guarantee.

To find a sample of seniors for the study, students at public schools across Michigan were identified through their GPAs and ACT or SAT scores. Ann Arbor schools were included in the 40 percent of the schools studied in southeast Michigan, while 46 percent of schools were in Michigan's west-central area and 14 percent of schools were in the Upper Peninsula.

For more information, visit the full press release

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