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Student Responses to Merit Retention Rules


  • Christopher M. Cornwell

    (University of Georgia)

  • Kyung Hee Lee

    (University of Georgia)

  • David B. Mustard

    (University of Georgia)


A common justification for HOPE-style merit-aid programs is to promote and reward academic achievement, thereby inducing greater investments in human capital. However, grade-based eligibility and retention rules encourage other behavioral responses. Using the longitudinal records of all undergraduates who enrolled at the University of Georgia (UGA) between 1989 and 1997, we estimate the effects of HOPE on course enrollment, withdrawal and completion, and the diversion of course taking from the academic year to the summer, treating non-residents as a control group. First, we find that HOPE decreased full-load enrollments and increased course withdrawals among resident freshmen. The combination of these responses results in an 11\% lower probability of full-load completion and an annual average reduction in credits completed of 1.0. The latter implies that between 1993 and 1997 Georgia-resident freshmen completed 15,710 fewer credit hours or 3,142 individual course enrollments than non-residents. Second, the scholarship's influence on course-taking behavior is concentrated on students with GPAs on or below the scholarship-retention margin. Third, the effect increased as the income cap was lifted and more students became eligible for the award. Fourth, these freshmen credit-hour reductions represent an intertemporal substitution, not a general slowdown in academic progress. Finally, residents diverted an average of 1.65 more credits from the regular academic year to the first summer term after their matriculation, which amounts to a 72\% rise in summer course taking.

Suggested Citation

  • Christopher M. Cornwell & Kyung Hee Lee & David B. Mustard, 2005. "Student Responses to Merit Retention Rules," HEW 0501001, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:wpa:wuwphe:0501001
    Note: Type of Document - pdf; pages: 24

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Alejandro Gaviria & Steven Raphael, 2001. "School-Based Peer Effects And Juvenile Behavior," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 83(2), pages 257-268, May.
    2. Christopher Cornwell & David B. Mustard, 2007. "Merit-Based College Scholarships and Car Sales," Education Finance and Policy, MIT Press, vol. 2(2), pages 133-151, February.
    3. 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 of Labor Economics (IZA).
    4. 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, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    5. Thomas S. Dee & Linda A. Jackson, 1999. "Who Loses HOPE? Attrition from Georgia’s College Scholarship Program," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 66(2), pages 379-390, October.
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    Cited by:

    1. Cowan, Benjamin W. & White, Dustin R., 2015. "The effects of merit-based financial aid on drinking in college," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 44(C), pages 137-149.
    2. Scott-Clayton, Judith & Zafar, Basit, 2019. "Financial aid, debt management, and socioeconomic outcomes: Post-college effects of merit-based aid," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 170(C), pages 68-82.
    3. Lisa Barrow & Cecilia Elena Rouse, 2018. "Financial Incentives and Educational Investment: The Impact of Performance-based Scholarships on Student Time Use," Education Finance and Policy, MIT Press, vol. 13(4), pages 419-448, Fall.
    4. Judith Scott-Clayton, 2011. "On Money and Motivation: A Quasi-Experimental Analysis of Financial Incentives for College Achievement," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 46(3), pages 614-646.
    5. Christopher Erwin, 2019. "Low-performing student responses to state merit scholarships," Working Papers 2019-02, Auckland University of Technology, Department of Economics.
    6. Judith Scott-Clayton & Lauren Schudde, 2016. "Performance Standards in Need-Based Student Aid," NBER Working Papers 22713, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Adam M. Lavecchia & Heidi Liu & Philip Oreopoulos, 2014. "Behavioral Economics of Education: Progress and Possibilities," NBER Working Papers 20609, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Welch, Jilleah G., 2014. "HOPE for community college students: The impact of merit aid on persistence, graduation, and earnings," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 43(C), pages 1-20.
    9. Islam, Asadul & Kwon, Sungoh & Masood, Eema & Prakash, Nishith & Sabarwal, Shwetlena & Saraswat, Deepak, 2020. "When Goal-Setting Forges Ahead but Stops Short," IZA Discussion Papers 13188, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    10. Bernal, Gloria L. & Penney, Jeffrey, 2019. "Scholarships and student effort: Evidence from Colombia’s Ser Pilo Paga program," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 72(C), pages 121-130.
    11. Carruthers, Celeste K. & Özek, Umut, 2016. "Losing HOPE: Financial aid and the line between college and work," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 53(C), pages 1-15.
    12. Lisa Barrow & Amanda McFarland & Cecilia Elena Rouse, 2020. "Who Has the Time? Community College Students’ Time-Use Response to Financial Incentives," Working Paper Series WP 2020-03, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

    More about this item


    Education; Merit-based aid; Education Finance; HOPE Scholarship;

    JEL classification:

    • I - Health, Education, and Welfare

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