College scholarships have long played an important role in ensuring access to postsecondary education in the U.S. Access alone does not guarantee successful completion of a degree, however. According to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, among Texas students who enrolled in eighth grade in fall 2004, 54% enrolled in postsecondary education after high school, but only 20% ultimately received a degree or certificate. This leaves a gap of 34%, or 110,215 students, who graduated from high school and enrolled in college, but left empty-handed.
In 2010, Greater Texas Foundation (GTF) engaged FSG Social Impact Advisors to examine how scholarship funders, including GTF, could design their programs to improve not only postsecondary access, but persistence and completion. The resulting research demonstrated that forward-looking scholarship funders had an opportunity to structure and target their postsecondary scholarships so that they enable student success. You can read FSG’s findings in their two Dollars for Degrees reports here:
GTF used the Dollars for Degrees research to develop GTF Scholars. The program is designed for selected graduates of early college high schools (ECHS) to continue their education at a four-year institution. The mission of the ECHS initiative is to provide traditionally underserved students (on campuses with high percentages of at-risk, economically disadvantaged students, and first-generation college students) an opportunity to earn a high school diploma and 60 college credit hours in an academically supportive environment and at no cost to the students. By succeeding in rigorous high school and community college courses, ECHS students begin to see the value of earning college credit. At the same time, they gain the knowledge, skills, confidence, and motivation to succeed at a four-year institution. The cost of obtaining a four-year degree, however, remains an obstacle to students from families in economically disadvantaged circumstances, and the transition to a four-year college can be challenging academically, emotionally, and socially. The GTF Scholars program aims to mitigate financial obstacles and support ECHS graduates through the other challenges they face as they work toward their baccalaureate degree.
GTF engaged an external evaluation team to assess the impact of the GTF Scholars program. Based on early findings, GTF Scholars are more likely to persist from year to year, graduate on time, and complete their degree program with significantly less loan debt compared to similar peers not participating in the program.