College Bound Scholarship Program
The purpose of this report is to provide information to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and College Spark Washington about the impact of the College Bound Scholarship (CBS) for the 2012 graduates, the first cohort to use the CBS. Specifically, these foundations want to know why, “some CBS students are more successful than others when it comes to college readiness, enrollment, and persistence.” The goal of this research project is to provide a comprehensive evaluation to identify trends, variables, and specific data points among CBS students that correlate with college success. The results from this project can be used to support future strategic planning and targeted development of the College Bound Scholarship program in Washington State and to support improved programmatic practices in K-12 systems (counselors), colleges (advisors/student services), and Community Based Organization partners to both schools and colleges.
The College Bound Scholarship program was designed to support recommendations from Governor Chris Gregoire’s Washington Learns 18-month comprehensive review of the state’s education system. The intent was to make college more affordable and accessible, raise educational attainment, and create a college-going culture in Washington. The College Bound Scholarship promises college tuition at public institution rates and up to $500 a year for books to low-income, middle-school students who work hard in school, stay out of legal trouble, and successfully apply to a higher education institution. The amount of the Scholarship award is combined with a State Need Grant and other state funding and is implemented through the college or university as part of a financial aid award. Because of these requirements, all students are required to apply for financial aid by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid during their senior year of high school.
From 2007 to 2013, more than 151,600 students have signed up for CBS in Washington State during the 7th and 8th grade years (WSAC, 2013). For the first four cohorts, approximately 64% of eligible students applied. Since then, the percentage has increased. For example, for the first cohort (2012 graduates) 57% of eligible students signed up, but for the fifth cohort (2016 graduates), 80% of eligible students signed up for the scholarship. This growth has been credited to the increasing number of 7th grade students signing up across the state, which has been attributed to targeted outreach, school and district support, and strong partnerships between the K-12 system and various community-based and college-access partners and non-profit organizations. The largest percentages of students signing up were White (42%) or Hispanic or Latino (33%). Eight percent of students signing up for the CBS were Black, 8% Asian, 6% multiracial, 2% American Indian, and 1% Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander.
While WSAC administers the CBS, the College Success Foundation (CSF) is the entity responsible for outreach across the state. There are nine CBS Regional Officers employed by CSF to work in the middle schools, high schools, and colleges in each educational service district. Their main efforts have focused on identifying “champions” at each institution who assist in creating a culture of college awareness. CSF representatives noted that they have had success in working with middle schools but are struggling to make the same connections at the high school level and have just begun the process of identifying champions at post-secondary institutions.
Findings indicate that while some students report receiving some college preparatory support in secondary school, responses varied and most respondents believe these interventions and supports are not available often enough. AVID and GEAR UP were the most commonly mentioned college prep programs, and are largely perceived as beneficial. A significant percentage of students (around 29%) responded that they did not have access to such programs in their high schools. Students in the first cohort of college attendees noted that college level supports for CB scholars are developing and not yet consistent across institutions. These findings align with the CSF and college personnel perspectives. College staff members and CSF personnel identified several specific goals for supports, including identifying institutional champions, conducting outreach to CB scholars, and alignment of data sharing systems across high schools and colleges to enable accurate tracking of CB scholars.
In addition, researchers followed up with 10 high schools, including five high schools that have a large proportion of College Bound Scholars using the scholarship and attending college compared to five high schools that did not to determine if some promising practices occur. The schools with high rates of scholarship usage and college attendance generally were more intentional in the support for College Bound Scholars and had a greater focus on college preparation. Examples of college preparation included having ongoing discussions with both high school and middle school staff about the CBS, providing students with one on one support, tracking students with less than a 2.0 GPA, and working with students at each grade level to prepare students for college. In addition, these schools had an expansive list of programs available to students to increase college awareness and preparation. College Bound Scholars who found value in the various college preparation programs stated these resources helped them by providing assistance in searching and filling out scholarships, college applications, and FAFSA; by visiting college campuses; by taking advanced courses sometimes with college credit; by developing study skills; by providing mentoring, and by having discussions about the college environment. High schools with high rates of college attendance for the College Bound Scholars also have staff members and students who more clearly understand the specifications of College Bound. Staff members clearly believed that they could describe the aspects of the scholarship or that they had someone on staff who could provide information. This is a critical piece because when there is a clear understanding of the scholarship process then students can better understand their requirements and the scholarship is kept out in front of the students. Generally, schools that have had success in signing up students and having students access and use their scholarship after high school have identified students who signed up for the scholarship and have aligned college information and support programs to meet students’ needs.
To investigate the impact on students who receive CB scholarships, we administered an online survey to 1,107 students who signed up for the scholarship. Researchers conducted structured interviews with students who agreed to be contacted following the online survey. Additional student focus groups were conducted at a sample of schools with high and low rates of college enrollment for College Bound Scholars. Overall, students believe CBS incentivizes them to maintain high grades and to enroll in college. Student respondents appreciated the flexibility of enrollment allowed by the scholarship. Many students said that the CBS has a positive influence on students who might not otherwise be able to afford college.
In the online survey, College Bound Scholars (full-and partial-year college attendees) mostly agreed the CBS was critical to them attending college. In fact, 85% of full-year college attendees reported the scholarship was critical to attending college. In addition, just over 50% agreed they could not continue to attend college without the CBS. This suggests that the financial support and participation in the scholarship was critical. However, interviewees disagree about whether being a College Bound Scholar has provided them with a network of friends or relationships with other CBS recipients or additional academic support at the college level.
During interviews and focus groups, stakeholders identified contextual issues, which they believe hinder the extent to which they can reach all students and improve outcomes. Personnel agreed that the largest barriers concern school personnel. First, staff members said that school leadership should do more to support the CBS program. Second, staff members said they have limited resources and must juggle the needs of College Bound program with those of other competing initiatives. In addition, some respondents reported that their schools have a culture of resistance in which some staff members actively dismiss the notion that low-income students would attend college. Furthermore, parents and guardians were sometimes skeptical of the CBS because they believe the scholarship to be “too good to be true” and, consequently, do not respond actively to outreach efforts. Some school personnel at the middle school level struggle to determine who is eligible for the scholarship, and when students transition to the high school, staff members are often unaware of who signed up for the scholarship. Student respondents reported that they were not fully prepared for the academic rigors of college and that they would have benefitted from more college preparedness and awareness programs. Finally, students acknowledged the difficulty of the transition from high school to college (less personal environment, college campus, different structure to daily living).
Findings were compiled for these evaluation questions:
The BERC Group, Inc.
Duane B. Baker, Ed.D.
Candace A. Gratama, Ed.D.
Kahlil Ford, Ph.D.
Bryn Chigizola, M.A.
Suzannah V. Calvery, Ph.D.
Leona Zamora, Ph.D.
The BERC Group brings experience and an extensive knowledge base to any evaluation project.