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Merit Aid and Sorting: The Effects of HOPE-Style Scholarships on College Ability Stratification


  • Cornwell, Christopher

    () (University of Georgia)

  • Mustard, David B.

    () (University of Georgia)


In the last fifteen years there has been a significant increase in merit aid. Coincident with this increase in merit aid has been increased attention to sorting in various aspects of life, especially in education. This paper examines the extent to which merit-based aid exacerbates or ameliorates sorting by ability in higher education. We use panel data from Peterson’s Guide to Colleges and the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) to evaluate this relationship. Our difference-in-differences estimates show that HOPE increased the quality of entering freshmen in Georgia institutions relative to their out-of-state peers. At the highest-quality institutions HOPE raised all measures of student quality and the homogeneity of students by ability. The lowest-quality institutions experienced no statistically significant effect from HOPE on any measure of student quality. We conclude that state-sponsored merit aid programs increased the retention of high ability students for college and also increased the ability stratification of institutions within states. We also examined two indirect measures of student selectivity-acceptance and yield rates. HOPE decreases acceptance rates at all types of institutions, but the percentage change is largest at the universities, which are most space constrained. HOPE increased yield rates for universities but not for any other institution categories. Together these results suggest that HOPE substantially increased the selectivity at universities.

Suggested Citation

  • Cornwell, Christopher & Mustard, David B., 2006. "Merit Aid and Sorting: The Effects of HOPE-Style Scholarships on College Ability Stratification," IZA Discussion Papers 1956, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp1956

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Dynarski, Susan, 2000. "Hope for Whom? Financial Aid for the Middle Class and Its Impact on College Attendance," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 53(3), pages 629-662, September.
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    4. Holger Sieg & Dennis Epple & Richard Romano, 2003. "Peer effects, financial aid and selection of students into colleges and universities: an empirical analysis," Journal of Applied Econometrics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 18(5), pages 501-525.
    5. James Heckman, 2011. "Policies to foster human capital," Educational Studies, Higher School of Economics, issue 3, pages 73-137.
    6. Caroline M. Hoxby & Bridget Terry, 1999. "Explaining Rising Income and wage Inequality Among the College Educated," NBER Working Papers 6873, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Cornwell, Christopher & Lee, Kyung Hee & Mustard, David B., 2003. "The Effects of Merit-Based Financial Aid on Course Enrollment, Withdrawal and Completion in College," IZA Discussion Papers 820, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
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    11. Josh Angrist, 2000. "Consequences of Imbalanced Sex Ratios: Evidence from America's Second Generation," NBER Working Papers 8042, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    13. Behrendt, Amy & Eisenach, Jeffrey & Johnson, William R., 1986. "Selectivity bias and the determinants of SAT scores," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 5(4), pages 363-371, August.
    14. Christopher M. Cornwell & David B. Mustard & Deepa Sridhar, 2005. "The Enrollment Effects of Merit-Based Financial Aid: Evidence from Georgia's HOPE Scholarship," HEW 0501002, EconWPA.
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    Cited by:

    1. Sjoquist, David L. & Winters, John V., 2013. "The effects of HOPE on post-college retention in the Georgia workforce," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 43(3), pages 479-490.

    More about this item


    education; sorting; stratification;

    JEL classification:

    • I2 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education

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