SMART Money: Do Financial Incentives Encourage College Students to Study Science?
Evans, Brent J.
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Producing more bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering is a major federal education priority. This paper investigates whether providing $4,000 to low-income students in their junior and senior years through the National SMART Grant can encourage them to major in a STEM field. Using administrative data from Ohio public colleges, the paper relies on a regression discontinuity design to identify the causal effect of program eligibility on the pursuit of science majors. Discontinuities exist around the Expected Family Contribution and GPA thresholds necessary to qualify for the SMART Grant. Results from four years of data indicate the financial incentives do not encourage students to choose a science major either at initial or junior year enrollment and do not improve the major persistence of students who initially choose a STEM field. The paper offers several potential explanations as to why students do not respond to the incentive.