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Equality of Opportunity and Human Capital Accumulation: Motivational Effect of a Nationwide Scholarship in Colombia

We study the ex ante motivational effect of a nationwide merit and need-based scholarship in Colombia.  Ser Pilo Paga (SPP) is a program that grants full scholarships at top-quality universities for 10,000 low-income students per year.  After its introduction in 2014, SPP completely closed the socioeconomic enrollment gap for high-performing students at top universities.  Using administrative data on the universe of high school seniors, we explore whether this unprecedented change in opportunities generated an ex ante motivational effect on eligible students’ performance on the 2015 national high school exit exam.  Our results from a difference-in-differences model and a regression discontinuity design indicate that the need-based eligibility for the scholarship had a substantial effect on test scores at the top of the distribution, starting around the 70th percentile.  For example, at the 90th percentile of the test score distribution, eligibility for the scholarship reduced the socioeconomic achievement gap by 11 to 15 percent.  We also find that university enrollment rates increased between 2014 and 2015 for eligible students who obtained a test score above the merit-based requirement for the scholarship but also for those just below the requirement, suggesting that the motivational effect contributed to better access to universities even for non-recipients of the scholarship.  More broadly, our results highlight how a lack of opportunity for social mobility discourages human capital accumulation by low-income students, thus contributing to the persistence of poverty and inequality.

Rachid Laajaj, Andres Moya y Fabio Sánchez
Palabras clave:
equality of opportunity, socioeconomic achievement gap, Colombia