|Attending university has become a great burden for many students, especially those from poor rural areas.|
The rapid expansion of enrollment capacity in China's colleges since the late 1990s has come at the price of high tuition hikes. The cost of a four-year university education in China is now 60 times the annual per capita income for families at the poverty line. Yet, at nearly all the institutions that poor rural university students attend, need-based financial aid remains almost non-existent. Thus, poor families who send a child to university must exhaust their savings, sell already scarce assets, and borrow from relatives, friends and money lenders. The burden on poor families and students is enormous, as are, we expect, the economic, educational, social and psychological consequences.
Our goal is to identify what impacts need-based financial aid has on:
We ran a randomized controlled trial at 4 universities in 3 Chinese provinces: Anhui University, Sichuan University and, in Shaanxi province, Xi’an Jiaotong University and Northwest University. The program intervention provided 200 first-year students with a four-year scholarship (4,000 yuan per year). The treatment groups were broken down as follows:
REAP conducted an initial survey of all incoming first-year students at the four universities designed to determine which students at each university were the poorest, and therefore were considered for need-based financial aid.
After financial aid award notifications were made, REAP will conducted a baseline survey of students and their families. REAP conducted follow up surveys at the end of years 2 and 4. By comparing results across groups at these times, were tested:
We found that providing full scholarships to poor first-year students at first-tier universities did not measurably improve student stress levels, self-esteem, or participation in college. In fact, poor students who did not receive scholarships (the control group) were able to access approximately equivalent amounts of financial aid, and the poorest students received teh most aid. This study demonstrates that financial aid in first-tier colleges is currently sufficient and accessible for poor rural students, insofar as they do not experience any additional stress, reduced self-esteem, or reduced college participation.
Thus, additional funding for China's educational system would likely be more impactful at lower tier colleges, high schools, or primary schools than first-tier scholarships.