A New Study Shows Free Tuition Makes A Huge Difference For Low-Income & Marginalized Students

A new study in The National Bureau of Economic Research studied a hassle-free way to guarantee low-income students a free college education and the results showed that it works. The percentage of low-income students at the university in the study jumped from 13 percent to 28 percent — all by sending information about a free tuition policy to qualified students and publicizing the policy clearly, according to The Atlantic.

The researchers examined a targeted campaign at the University of Michigan. The campaign, the High Achieving Involved Leader Scholarship (HAIL), encouraged low-income, qualified students to apply to the University of Michigan with the guarantee of an undergraduate education with no tuition or fees. Each student, their parents and their high school principal were sent a personalized mailer offering the scholarship to students —even if they didn’t fill out FASFA. 

The HAIL is a new program at the University of Michigan that differs from other similar programs because the advertising focuses on the fact that free tuition is guaranteed to the accepted students, as The Atlantic noted. The study found that this language may have even encouraged students who would not have gone to college anyway to consider the University.

Students who received this personalized mailer were reportedly twice as likely to apply to the University of Michigan than students tested in the control group. 

The study also addresses a phenomenon known as undermatching — referring to when students don’t attend the most selective college that they would be accepted by. Adam Harris noted that under-matching ultimately hurts students because they are less likely to graduate and receive the social benefits that come from attending an elite college.

Another study found that the chances of a student under-matching is less likely when students’ admission is guaranteed through state policy — and when it's as transparent as possible what admission to their schools of choice would require and what it'll cost.