Does financial aid work? This is not a question about whether or not financial aid helps students afford college. The question is about whether or not financial aid improves academic achievement. Does it actually make students work harder and earn better grades? Despite a vast increase in the amount of financial aid offered in recent years, no one really knew if giving education grants to students actually improved academic outcome.

Earlier MDRC, a nonprofit organization that looks at policies that affect the American poor, gave performance-based scholarships to Louisiana student to see if scholarships improved student outcomes.

The Louisiana project indicated that performance-based scholarships had positive result on student performance but, in part because of Hurricane Katrina, the study was not able to measure long term effects of this sort of thing.

But MDRC is now expanding the project to look at the relationship between performance-based scholarships for poor students and student achievement in four states: Ohio, New York, New Mexico, and California. According to MDRC’s brief about the study’s expansion, the new project will result in:

State-specific research briefs [that] will provide information on the enrollment process and the characteristics of the target population of each state. These reports will document how the… scholarships are being delivered by drawing on quantitative and qualitative data. State-specific reports will contain a full evaluation of all activities, including a summary of the implementation, impact, and cost-benefit findings.

It does not promise to be the most exciting policy brief in the world but this new project does have some potential to improve the way the U.S. looks at scholarships and funding for education. Up until now, no one really knew what worked in financial aid policy.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer