The results of two state-sponsored college merit scholarship programs are not very impressive.
Merit-based aid programs provide financial assistance to highly academically qualified students entering college regardless of financial need. Merit-based strategies have been adopted by several states with the goal of improving college access and retention rates among the highest achieving students. Several studies of merit-based financial aid programs have concluded that these programs increase college enrollment, but evidence of their impact on degree completion, particularly in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields, is scarce. A study by Liang Zhang entitled, Does Merit-Based Aid Affect Degree Production in STEM Fields: Evidence from Georgia and Florida, examined changes in baccalaureate degree completion in two states with well-established merit-based financial aid programs….
The preliminary findings of this study show that state-wide, merit-based financial aid programs may slightly increase baccalaureate degree completion overall, especially for women, but major impacts on STEM fields in particular do not exist. It will be important for policymakers and higher education institutions to consider these data as they evaluate the efficiency of merit-based aid strategies in attracting students to certain fields and improving overall educational attainment levels.
The programs in the study use high school grades as the primary criteria for awarding scholarships. Two of the three Florida awards are granted to students with SAT scores below the 50th percentile. The Georgia HOPE scholarship has no SAT score requirements, only that students graduate with a 3.0 minimum GPA.
Given the grade inflation observed in high schools, I suspect that low academic requirements partly account for the lackluster impact on college completion rates.