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Lead Them to Water and Pay Them to Drink: An Experiment with Services and Incentives for College Achievement

  • Joshua Angrist
  • Daniel Lang
  • Philip Oreopoulos

High rates of attrition, delayed completion, and poor achievement are growing concerns at colleges and universities in North America. This paper reports on a randomized field experiment involving two strategies designed to improve these outcomes among first-year undergraduates at a large Canadian university. One treatment group was offered peer advising and organized study group services. Another was offered substantial merit-scholarships for solid, but not necessarily top, first year grades. A third treatment group combined both interventions. Service take-up rates were much higher for students offered both services and scholarships than for those offered services alone. Females also used services more than males. No program had an effect on grades for males. However, first-term grades were significantly higher for females in the two scholarship treatment groups. These effects faded somewhat by year's end, but remain significant for females who planned to take enough courses to qualify for a scholarship. There also appears to have been an effect on retention for females offered both scholarships and services. This effect is large enough to generate an overall increase in retention. On balance, the results suggest that a combination of services and incentives is more promising than either alone.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w12790.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 12790.

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Date of creation: Dec 2006
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Publication status: published as Angrist, Joshua, Daniel Lang, and Philip Oreopoulos. “Incentives and Services for College Achievement: Evidence from a Randomized Trial." American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 1, 1 (January 2009): 136-163.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:12790
Note: CH ED LS PE
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  1. Bengt Holmstrom & Paul R. Milgrom, 1985. "Aggregation and Linearity in the Provision of Intertemporal Incentives," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 742, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
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