October 2007

IZA DP No. 3134: Incentives and Services for College Achievement: Evidence from a Randomized Trial

published in: American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 2009, 1(1), 136–63.

Many North American college students have trouble satisfying degree requirements in a timely manner. This paper reports on a randomized field experiment involving two strategies designed to improve academic performance among entering full-time undergraduates at a large Canadian university. One treatment group (“services”) was offered peer advising and organized study groups. Another (“incentives”) was offered substantial merit-scholarships for solid, but not necessarily top, first year grades. A third treatment group combined both interventions. Service take-up rates were much higher for women than for men and for students offered both services and incentives than for those offered services alone. No program had an effect on men’s grades or other measures of academic performance. However, the Fall and first-year grades of women in the combined group were significantly higher than those of women in the control group, and women in this group earned more course credits and were less likely than controls to be on academic probation. These differentials persisted through the end of the second year, in spite of the fact that incentives were given in the first year only. The results suggest that the study skills acquired in response to a combination of services and incentives can have a lasting effect, and that the combination of services and incentives is more promising than either alone.