Performance-based scholarships have two main goals: to give students more money for college and to provide incentives for academic progress. They are designed to reduce the financial burden on low-income students and help them progress academically by offering financial aid contingent upon meeting pre-specified academic benchmarks. The scholarships are intended to cover a modest amount of students' educational costs during the semesters they are offered -- generally between 15 and 25 percent of students' unmet financial need, the difference between students' calculated financial need to attend college and the financial aid they are awarded. The money is paid directly to students, on top of their existing federal and state need-based financial aid, and the students themselves decide how best to use the funds.
MDRC launched the Performance-Based Scholarship Demonstration in 2008 to evaluate the effectiveness of these scholarships for as broad a range of low-income students as possible, in a variety of settings, and with varying incentive structures. As such, the evaluation includes more than 12,000 students in institutions across six states to test different performance-based scholarship designs.
These results show that even relatively moderate investments in low-income students' education can have modest but long-lasting impacts on their academic outcomes. These findings may be especially relevant to states, institutions, and private scholarship providers seeking purposeful and efficient ways to give low-income students additional financial aid that can also help them succeed academically.