In 2008 and 2009, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation hired my research company to evaluate a DC college scholarship program.
The DC Achievers Program operates in six DC high schools: Anacostia, Ballou, Woodson, Friendship Collegiate, Maya Angelou and Thurgood Marshall. I led my company’s evaluation effort. Interested individuals can request a copy of the final report by sending an email request to email@example.com.
Currently, I’m evaluating another large DC college support program, but since that work is ongoing and far from completion I will not name the program. That program, however, is very similar to the DC Achievers Program.
So, recently when Montgomery County school officials announced the creation of ACES—Achieving Collegiate Excellence and Success, I was all ears.
On paper, DC Achievers and ACES sound similar. Goals are nearly identical—help low-income first-generation students (a term generally used for low-income students who are the first in their family to attend college) get into college and persist through to college graduation. The programs also offer similar academic and guidance supports. Where the programs differ, however, is on the issue of scholarships. DC Achievers makes no bones about this aspect of their program—in addition to a very long list of support services, the program awards participants scholarships valued at $50,000. ACES points out that it is not a scholarship program; however, it has plans eventually to connect its students to scholarship
Since the ACES Program is just getting off the ground, I will not pass judgment on the wisdom of it not being a scholarship program. I will, however, simply point out that for most low-income first-generation students college success is greatly dependent on their ability to pay for college. And having scholarship money with few strings attached is preferred over loans with many strings attached.
This excerpt from a 2001 report by the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance underscores the importance of taking to heart the critical role scholarship money plays for low-income students. For low-income first generation students money matters a lot and it helps define and shape their college experiences and outcomes.
“To finance, compensate for, or lower in some way their unmet need, low income students engage in a series of behaviors including institutional selection. Low-income students currently must make an extraordinary effort in terms of work and borrowing to attend a four-year institution full-time and live on campus, which they do far less frequently than their middle- and upper-income peers. More frequently, low income students attend a two-year public institution, very often part-time to lower unmet need, and work long hours. (Twenty nine percent of low income students work more than 35 hours per week.) This is especially true for the lowest income students; 47.3 percent of students from families with income under $10,000 attend two-year public institutions compared to only 8.6 percent of students from families with income over $100,000. As unmet need causes students to deviate from full-time, on-campus attendance—the behavior most conducive to academic success—toward part-time attendance, living off campus, and working long hours to avoid borrowing, the probability of persistence and degree completion declines dramatically, by as much as 75 percent. For low-income students, these decisions are less a choice as they are an inevitable response to high levels of unmet need. This is the pivotal feature of the condition of access today, and little reduction will occur in income-related participation, persistence, and completion gaps until unmet need barriers are lowered significantly.”