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Cash Incentives, Plus Mentoring, Might Convince Some Students to Go to College

A recent study from the University of California Davis and Dartmouth University found that coaching plus cash incentives can have "meaningful impacts" on students' decisions to attend college, as well as finish their degree. The catch? The impact was only noticeable on female students and recent immigrants. Male students who were native residents of the U.S. showed no variation in behavior.

The study's authors, Scott Carrell and Bruce Sacerdote, acknowledge that there are plenty of programs aimed at early intervention.

"Our research question is a rather different one, namely can we have a positive impact on college going even late in a student's high school career?" the authors write. "Our goal is to provide a road map to college for students who are a) unsure about their future path, b) intimidated by the multi-step process of applying, c) or who are perhaps defaulting to a decision of not attending based on their parents' or siblings' behavior rather than on their own personal pecuniary and non-pecuniary returns to college."

To that end, they designed a mentoring program for high schools in the state of New Hampshire that would focus on students mid-way through their senior year. The students were randomly selected from a pool identified as having expressed interest in college, but not having taken concrete steps to apply to school.

The study leaders paired the participants with undergraduate mentors, and helped them fill out the necessary paperwork. The study paid for all application fees and offered a $100 bonus for completing everything.

In the end, they found that women who participated were 12 percent more likely to apply to school and stay in through their second year. The study also saw a similar result for recent immigrants to the U.S. In addition, some students switched their focus from two-year schools to four-year schools.

There was no significant impact on male students, however. The study's authors suggested that this might be due to the men responding negatively to feedback during the program, while women tended to perceive feedback as a sign that they were better candidates for college education than they had thought prior to the study. Test scores, work habits, and family support made no measurable difference in the outcomes. Cash bonuses without mentoring didn't move the needle.

Of course, if the female test subjects really want to keep reaping financial rewards for their labors, they should choose their school carefully. The PayScale 2013 College ROI Rankings show very clearly that some schools over better return on female students' investment than others -- although this can be as much a function of choice of major as choice of college or university.

Tell Us What You Think

Would a cash bonus have influenced your decision to go to college? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

More from PayScale

Behind The Scenes of The 2013 College ROI Report Methodology

For the College-Bound, Are There Any Safe Bets? PayScale Joins The Debate

Debt the Deciding Factor in Choosing a College

Money for College

(Photo Credit: Tax Credits/Flickr)

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