The Working Classes and Higher Education: Inequality of Access, Opportunity and Outcome. Routledge, New York. (2015).
Peter Kinsley and Sara Goldrick-Rab
College enrollment rates among students from working class families are at an all-time high. Yet time to degree completion and overall completion rates for this group—particularly those who qualify for need-based financial aid—continue to lag behind students from more affluent families. Increasingly, higher education leaders and policy-makers have turned to performance-based financial aid programs as one way to address this disparity. By tying financial aid eligibility to minimum academic performance standards in college, it is thought that greater academic commitment can be promoted. Underlying these programs is the untested assumption that students who rely on aid need incentives because they lack academic focus and care insufficiently about academic performance. In this chapter we present evidence from a mixed-methods study of federal Pell Grant recipients which directly challenges this assumption. Further, we leverage a randomized experiment of additional need-based financial aid to show that tying aid to performance standards may unintentionally induce students to reduce enrollment intensity and thereby extend time to degree in an effort to “make the grade.”