Christopher Jepsen - Promise kept? Free community college and attainment in Tennessee

Melbourne Institute Seminar Series

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Title: Promise kept? Free community college and attainment in Tennessee

Abstract: Place-based “Promise”' scholarship programs – Tennessee Promise, Kalamazoo Promise, and an array of other state and city initiatives – cut through the complexities of college price with a simple message: free college for any high school graduate. Such initiatives have been shown to increase college enrollment, but some worry that students who choose college because of a Promise scholarship may be ill suited to succeed without further institutional and individual support. We examine the effect of Knox Achieves, a local last-dollar scholarship based in Knox County, Tennessee, on student persistence, transfer, and attainment from Tennessee public colleges and universities. Knox Achieves is an interesting test case because it served as the model for Tennessee Promise, a statewide last-dollar aid program whose introduction preceded a 10% gain in freshmen enrollment across the state. Treatment effect estimates based on difference-in-difference and matching-based identification suggest that Knox Achieves students completed 2-5 more college credits than matched and ineligible students within four years of high school, and that they were 7-9 percentage points more likely to attain a postsecondary certificate or associate degree. Participating students were less likely to enroll in a four-year college in the years following high school graduation, however, and their relative bachelor’s degree completion remains to be seen.

Presenter:  Christopher Jepsen, University of College Dublin

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