Decades of technological and economic change have dramatically increased the importance of postsecondary education for economic mobility and labor market success. Still, substantial disparities in four-year college enrollment, persistence, and graduation rates remain for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. In response to these challenges, colleges and universities across the country are experimenting with financial aid programs in hopes of increasing accessibility and improving student outcomes. In the fall of 2015, the Camden campus of Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey (Rutgers–Camden), announced plans to implement a last-dollar financial aid program called Bridging the Gap that would eliminate or substantially reduce the cost of tuition and certain fees for in-state students from lower- and middle-income families. The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia is engaged in a multiyear, mixed-methods evaluation of Bridging the Gap to assess its impacts on student success and financial wellbeing.
The second report in this series provides a mixed-methods look at the inaugural Bridging the Gap cohort’s first full year of college, complementing analysis of enrollment and academic performance data with insights from student interviews. Early results suggest positive impacts on enrollment among lower-income students, although it is unclear whether observed improvements in academic performance are attributable to the program. Interviews with participants suggest the program improved affordability and reduced financial stress but illuminate challenges with the financial aid process and maintaining eligibility.
Full Report: "How Does Last-Dollar Financial Aid Affect First-Year Student Outcomes? Evidence from the Bridging the Gap Study" (28 pages, 9.3 MB)
The first report in this series presents findings from interviews conducted with Rutgers–Camden administrators and students who participated in the first cohort of Bridging the Gap, exploring the impact of the program on students’ college application process, transition to college, and financial wellbeing. Qualitative analysis of these interviews provides early evidence that the program has been successful at expanding financially disadvantaged students’ access to a traditional four-year degree program. However, challenges identified in the interviews, including the difficulty of managing ongoing living and educational expenses beyond tuition, emerged as potential obstacles for students’ persistence in college. Additionally, many students struggle to navigate and make sense of program requirements and bureaucratic processes, particularly with respect to financial aid.
Full Report: "Navigating the First Semester: How Students Get to and Get by in College" (20 pages, 984 KB)
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