Education Policy Initiative informs new pilot scholarship designed to enhance diversity at U-M

September 17, 2015

Last weekend throughout the state, an estimated 1,000 economically disadvantaged high school students with high GPAs and ACT scores found a major opportunity in their mailboxes from the University of Michigan. The students received a customized invitation to apply for undergraduate admission, including a step-by-step guide to applying and fee-waivers for each step of the process.

This rollout marked the launch of the HAIL Scholarship (for High Achieving Involved Leaders), a pilot program, designed by the University of Michigan in a collaboration with the Ford School's Education Policy Initiative, which aims to remove perceived application barriers and increase the number of U-M applications from Michigan high school students of diverse backgrounds.  The scholarship will provide each admitted student with four years of full tuition and fee waivers, an estimated value of $60,000.

Launched in connection with U-M’s plan to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus, the HAIL Scholarship was designed in collaboration with Professor Susan Dynarski, co-director of the Education Policy Initiative, whose research has focused extensively on increasing access to higher education.

"What we have observed is that many smart students forgo college in the mistaken belief that they cannot afford it," says Dynarski. "The financial aid system, which is intended to increase opportunities for low-income students, is largely to blame. The HAIL Scholarship is unique in its tailored outreach, simplified aid process, and early financial commitment to qualified students. We anticipate that it will help to expand the number of high-achieving students from disadvantaged backgrounds who consider, apply to, and ultimately attend the University. That is the end goal and test of the program's success." 

Highly qualified students from under-resourced communities tend to apply to less-selective schools, a phenomenon called undermatching. These schools often have fewer financial support resources and lower graduation rates. By providing customized information and individualized support throughout the application process, the HAIL Scholarship encourages students to consider and apply to U-M, which boasts the state’s highest four-year college graduation rate.

The HAIL Scholarship Program’s evidence-based approach draws on findings from a 2013 study by researchers at Stanford University and the University of Virginia, which provided low-income students with fee-waivers and semi-customized information on the application process and college costs. These students applied and gained admission to better colleges at higher rates than the students in the control group. 

Over the next two years, the Ford School's Education Policy Initiative will evaluate the results of the new HAIL Scholarship Program to see if it is an effective way to correct undermatching for high-achieving, low-income students and to boost the diversity of U-M's undergraduate student body.

--Story by Afton Branche (MPP '17)

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