July 2023

Affording Degree Completion: An Experimental Study of Completion Grants at Accessible Public Universities

Sara Goldrick-Rab, Christine Baker-Smith, Travis T. York, Kallie Clark, Douglas Webber, and Christel Perkins


To improve college affordability and graduation rates, universities are increasingly allocating “completion grants” to students who are nearing the finish line but facing financial challenges. Using an experimental design and common program model across 11 broad-access public universities in ten states, we assessed the impact of a completion grants averaging $1,200 distributed among more than 14,000 students. We find that, despite university expectations that most students were near completion, only two-thirds of students eligible to receive a completion grant graduated within the academic year. Receiving a completion grant did not improve that rate. However, nearly all eligible students (95%) graduated within three years or were still working on their degrees. While completion grants are intended to enhance equity, we do not find evidence that they exerted positive impacts for marginalized groups as designed in this study. Moreover, while there was some program implementation variation across universities, it did not lead to differences in program impact.

Keywords: Higher education, affordability, graduation, financial aid, inequality

DOI: https://doi.org/10.17016/FEDS.2023.047

PDF: Full Paper

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Last Update: July 14, 2023