Do Credit Momentum Policies Through the 15 to Finish Improve Academic Progression and Completion of Low-Income, First-Generation Students? Evidence from a College Promise Program

Chan / Research in Higher Education / March 2022

Credit momentum policies, or performance-based financial aid policies, have become increasingly popular among policymakers seeking to improve degree completion rates. This paper examines Indiana’s 30-credit-hour completion policy on first-time, full-time students who receive the Twenty-First Century Scholars (TFCS) Promise Program. Using administrative data from the Indiana University’s University Institutional Research and Reporting, representing 7842 low-income students who enrolled shortly before the policy was implemented, the author uses a difference-in-differences framework to explore the heterogeneous treatment effects of a credit (academic) momentum policy that was supported by the Complete College America 15 to Finish initiative on the academic progression and completion of promise scholarship recipients at Indiana University Bloomington and Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis, compared to non-TFCS Pell recipients from the Fall 2011 cohorts through the Fall 2014 cohorts. The author finds some evidence to suggest that credit momentum policies are associated with small increases in cumulative credits and grades but had no effect on degree completion status (Year 4 Graduation Status, Year 6 Graduation Status). The author also finds evidence that TFCS female and first-generation recipients responded positively to the policy change but find no evidence that the policy affects promise recipients differently by race/ethnicity. While consistent with prior work on credit momentum, these findings are among the first to explore the academic performance of college promise recipients. Together, these findings indicate that credit momentum policies may improve academic progression and completion for low-income, first-generation students who receive a promise scholarship. Implications for policy and research are discussed.