New Study Shows Performance-Based Scholarships Can Accelerate the Progress of Developmental Math Students in Community College

(New York City, October 8, 2014) — MDRC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education and social policy research firm, released new findings today from a rigorous evaluation of the Mathematics Access Performance Scholarship (MAPS) program at two campuses of Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Florida. Using a modest financial incentive ($600 per semester over three semesters), the program increased the proportion of remedial math students who sought assistance at campus Math Labs and who completed a college-level math course or Intermediate Algebra within two years. It also modestly increased the number of credits students earned in the short term.

Community colleges across the country confront a clear challenge: too many students arrive on campus unprepared, get placed into developmental course sequences that they never complete, and end up dropping out. Developmental math is a particular problem: in one study, only 20 percent of students who were referred to developmental math passed a college-level math course — a course that is almost always required for graduation.

What Is the Mathematics Access Performance Scholarship (MAPS) Program?

Launched in 2010, MAPS provides an incentive for low-income students in developmental (or remedial) math to complete a three-course math sequence early, get help from on-campus Math labs, and strive for passing grades or better. Each semester for three semesters, students were offered a $600 grant, contingent on making at least three to five visits to the on-campus Math Lab and completing their math course with a grade of “C” or better. In addition, students who earned a “B” or better received a math textbook or book voucher for the next math course in the sequence. Students were eligible for the program if they were 18 or older, eligible for Pell grants, and were in need of Beginning Algebra (the highest level of developmental math).

This study of MAPS is part of MDRC’s national Performance-Based Scholarship (PBS) Demonstration, which is testing a variety of scholarship models with different populations in diverse settings. The study at Hillsborough was funded by the Helios Foundation and the Open Society Foundations. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the anchor funder of the PBS Demonstration.

What Did MDRC’s Study Find?

The MAPS evaluation was conducted at two of Hillsborough Community College’s campuses, Dale Mabry and Brandon. Eligible students were randomly assigned into either the MAPS program group or a control group that received regular campus services, but no incentive. Both groups were followed for two years. Key findings include:

  • MAPS students were much more likely to seek help at Math Labs: 87 percent of MAPS students visited Math Labs, compared with 49 percent of students in the control group.
  • MAPS students made more progress in their math sequences: MAPS students were 11 percentage points more likely to complete a college-level math course or Intermediate Algebra within two years (49 percent vs. 38 percent).
  • MAPS students earned more credits in the short term: MAPS students earned about 1.5 more credits over their first semester and a half than students in the control group (although this effect faded).
  • MAPS had no effect on semester-to-semester retention: Students in the program were no more likely to reenroll than students in the control group.

“These modest but positive findings at Hillsborough Community College align with those found at other colleges in MDRC’s national Performance-Based Scholarship Demonstration, indicating that grants contingent upon performance can give students a small push in the right direction,” said Lashawn Richburg-Hayes, Director of MDRC’s Young Adults and Postsecondary Education Policy Area.

“We’re gratified that HCC’s Mathematics Access Performance Scholarship program is providing our developmental math students with the kind of support that meaningfully boosts their academic success,” said Craig Johnson, Vice President, Academic Affairs, Hillsborough Community College. “As an institution, HCC has learned about using incentives successfully to influence specific students’ behaviors that can have a positive impact upon the students’ success.”

“We are encouraged by the impact of the performance-based scholarship program at Hillsborough Community College and the effect it had on helping students progress through and complete college-level math courses,” said Paul Luna, Helios Education Foundation’s President and CEO. “Our Foundation is committed to ensuring that all students achieve postsecondary education success, and collaborative investments in initiatives like this bring more opportunities to bear for students to succeed and graduate with a competitive certificate or degree.”

The report, Mapping Success: Performance-Based Scholarships, Student Services, and Developmental Math at Hillsborough Community College, is available on MDRC’s website.

Contact: John Hutchins, Communications Director, 212-340-8604, [email protected] .

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Headquartered in New York City, with a regional office in Oakland, CA, MDRC is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization with 40 years of experience designing and evaluating education and social policy initiatives.