The CUNY Performance Based Scholarship initiative offers monetary rewards to students for successful course completion while enrolled at the Borough of Manhattan Community College and Hostos Community College.
Approximately 350,000 individuals in New York are working yet not earning enough to rise above the poverty level. A lack of skills and an inability to access education prevents many working poor individuals from securing permanent well-paid jobs with growth potential. Low-income students are less likely to complete a post-secondary education, placing them at greater risk of continued poverty.
Although New York's Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) offers one of the most generous state financial aid programs in the country, two groups of students still have particularly high levels of unmet need: students with children and independent students without children. Part-time students are another group that is not fully supported by TAP. The new Part-Time TAP program requires students to complete one year of full-time study before they are eligible to receive TAP as a part-time student.
Community college students confront a variety of obligations that conflict with their educational goals. Nationally, only 17% of students who enroll in a community college end up receiving an Associate's degree within six years. In New York City, this number is higher, but still only 21%. For many students, competing work and family responsibilities can prolong or interrupt college attendance. More than 60% of the City's community college students balance their studies with full-time or part-time work. Family responsibilities, such as the care of small children, can also impede the completion of a college degree.
A random assignment evaluation conducted by MDRC, entitled, "Opening Doors," targeted low-income parents who attended two community colleges in the New Orleans area. The program offered $1,000 on top of Pell grants and other financial aid if students met two conditions: they stayed enrolled at least half-time and earned a "C" or better grade point average. The program extended over two semesters, enabling students to receive up to $2,000 total. Program counselors monitored students' performance and issued the scholarship payments in three increments - one upon registration, another at midterms, and the last after finals - to incentivize students to stay in school and make good progress. MDRC's evaluation showed that the program produced large, positive effects on persistence and academic achievement..
The demonstration project is taking place at two CUNY community college sites: Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC)-located in the Tribeca section of Manhattan and one of the largest colleges in the CUNY system-and Hostos Community College-located in the heart of the South Bronx and serving the largest disadvantaged population relative to the total CUNY student population.
Based on MDRC's analysis of gaps in TAP in New York City, BMCC and Hostos targets students who are:
- Between the ages of 22-35
- Living away from their parents
- Eligible to receive the federal Pell Grant
- Required to take at least one developmental course
- Enrolled in at least 6 credits or contact hours
The lower age limit is to capture students most likely to be affected by the gaps in the TAP grant, while the upper age limit reflects the target population served by the Robin Hood Foundation's policy area supporting this project. The "living away from parents" criterion was added at the suggestion of the financial aid directors at the colleges. Since Federal law limits the amount of financial aid that a student can receive, limiting the study to "independent" students results in targeting those with a total cost of attendance of about $18,100. Almost all of these students are potentially eligible for the $2,600 scholarship without supplanting loans or work-study, which are the outcomes required by Federal law should the total amount of financial aid exceed the level of unmet need.
Students have been randomly assigned to a program group that receives the scholarship or to the regular services group that is eligible for all financial aid that they would typically receive in the absence of the project. A total sample of 1,500 students has been recruited, with 1,100 attending BMCC and 400 attending Hostos. Roughly half of the students in the sample are receiving the scholarship.
Both BMCC and Hostos are disbursing scholarships to program students at the following three points:
- $200 after bill verification
- $450 after "form A" (Hostos) or "5th week attendance" (BMCC)
- $650 after successful passage of 6 credits (credit or developmental credits) with a grade of "C" or better in each class, "P" for pass/fail classes, "S" in developmental/remedial courses
"Bill verification" represents the point at which a student confirms to the college that they will register for the term by either acknowledging the debt that they owe for courses or settling their tuition bill. Form A and 5th week attendance is a procedure to verify that students have attended at least once in the first 3 weeks and once again in week 4 or 5. This measure is used to verify financial aid eligibility (such as the amount of Pell Grant that a student is eligible for) based on full- or part-time attendance.
This program serves low-income community college students between the ages of 22 and 35 who are eligible to receive the Federal Pell Grant, taking at least one developmental course, and who are enrolled for at least six credits for the semester.
- Successful course completion
- Increased college retention