The Adams Scholarship All Massachusetts scholarships programs

 2 The Adams Scholarship
All Massachusetts public high school 10th graders take the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS), which includes an English language arts (ELA) portion and a mathematics
portion. Scores on each portion range in multiples of two from 200 to 280, with 260-280 categorized as “advanced” and 240-258 as “proficient”. In January 2004, Massachusetts Governor Mitt
Romney proposed the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship Program, which would waive tuition
at in-state public colleges for any student whose total MCAS score placed him or her in the top
25% of students statewide.2 Romney’s two stated goals seemed to be keeping highly talented
2The eponymous couple cared deeply about education. John Adams wrote, in the Massachusetts Constitution,
that “Wisdom, and knowledge, as well as virtue... as these depend on spreading the opportunities and advantages
of education in the various parts of the country, and among the different orders of the people, it shall be the duty of
legislatures and magistrates, in all future periods of this commonwealth, to cherish the interests of literature and the
sciences, and all seminaries of them; especially the university at Cambridge, public schools and grammar schools in
students in state and improving the quality of the state’s public postsecondary institutions. 

his January 15, 2004 State of the Commonwealth speech to the Massachusetts legislature, Governor Romney explained that “I want our best and brightest to stay right here in Massachusetts.”3
Conversations with individuals involved with the scholarship’s inception also suggest that Massachusetts wanted the recently introduced MCAS exam to be seen as a valid measure of student
achievement and was thus willing to, in effect, put its money where its mouth was.
Concerned that Governor Romney’s statewide standard would assign scholarships largely to
students in wealthy, high-performing school districts, the state Board of Higher Education ultimately approved a modified version of the program in October 2004.4 Under the approved policy,
which has continued through at least 2013, a student receives a tuition waiver if his or her MCAS
scores fulfill three criteria. First, he or she must score advanced on one portion of the exam. Second, he or she must score proficient or advanced on the other portion of the exam. Third, the
student’s total MCAS score must fall in the top 25% of scores in his or her school district.5 The
scores used to determine eligibility come from each student’s first attempt at taking the grade 10
MCAS tests in ELA and mathematics. To receive the scholarship, a student must be enrolled in
and graduate from a Massachusetts public high school in his or her senior year. 

The graduating
class of 2005 was the first to receive Adams scholarships.
Scholarship winners are automatically notified by letter in the fall of their senior year. The
scholarship waives tuition at any of four University of Massachusetts (U. Mass.) campuses, nine
(four-year) state colleges, or fifteen (two-year) community colleges.6 As such, the letter that Governor Romney sent to the first class of scholarship recipients promised in bold-faced and underlined
letters “four years of free tuition.” Receipt of the scholarship does not, however, eliminate the cost
the towns” (Chapter V, Section II). Abigail Adams, disturbed by the 18th century gender gap, wrote that “It is really
mortifying, sir, when a woman possessed of a common share of understanding considers the difference of education
between the male and female sex, even in those families where education is attended to” (Letter to John Thaxter,
February 15, 1778).
See the January 20, 2004 Boston Globe article, “Specialists Blast Romney Proposal for Free Tuition,” by Jenna Russell.
See the October 20, 2004 Boston Globe article, “New MCAS Scholarship OK’d,” by Jenna Russell.
5As of the class of 2006, students in charter schools or who participate in school choice or the Metco program can
fulfill the third criterion by placing in the top 25% of the district they attend or the district in which they reside.
Six of Massachusetts’ state colleges (Salem, Bridgewater, Fitchburg, Framingham, Westfield and Worcester) were
renamed “state universities” in 2010. For simplicity, we refer to them as “state colleges” throughout the paper.
of college attendance. 

To clarify the distinction between tuition and fees, the letter to the second
class of scholarship recipients added to its final paragraph the disclaimer that “College fees and
rooming costs are not included in this scholarship award.” More recent letters have emphasized
this fact even more clearly.7
Figure A.4 shows the tuition and mandatory fees at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst
and Bridgewater State College, the two largest campuses in their respective sectors. 

Strikingly, at
both campuses and nearly all other public Massachusetts colleges, tuition has remained constant
in nominal terms over the past decade. Mandatory fees have, however, risen dramatically.8 For the
first class of scholarship winners in 2005, the tuition waiver was worth $1,714 annually if used at
U. Mass. Amherst or $910 if used at Bridgewater State. Given mandatory fees of $7,566 at U. Mass.
Amherst and $4,596 at Bridgewater State, the Adams Scholarship thus represented a roughly 20%
reduction in the direct cost of attendance. By the fall of 2011, fees had risen by more than a third,
so that the Adams Scholarship represented a less than 15% reduction in the cost of attendance.
These percentages would be substantially lower if room, board and other expenses were included
in the total cost of attendance. 

Conversations with individual colleges’ financial aid offices also
suggest that for some students this aid is factored into financial aid offers and may be partially
crowded out as a result.9 The Adams Scholarship thus lowers the cost of college attendance by
well under 20%, may be partially crowded out by college financial aid offices, is worth at most
$6,856 (4*$1,714) over four years, and is substantially less valuable than other well-known merit
aid scholarships such as the Georgia HOPE and CalGrant awards (Dynarski 2008, Kane 2007). By
all of these measures, the Adams Scholarship represents a relatively small amount of financial aid.
See Figures A.1, A.2 and A.3 for copies of these letters.
8This peculiar detail may be due to the fact that tuitions are set by the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education
and flow directly to the state’s General Fund, while fees are set by each college’s Board of Trustees and are retained by
the colleges themselves.
9We spoke to financial aid officers at all of the U. Mass. campuses about their current policies, which they all believed
have been in place since the inception of the Adams Scholarship. All four ask students to send their notification letters
as soon as possible in the admissions process, as the financial aid offices do not have their own list of winners. U. Mass.
Amherst said there was little scope for crowdout because most students send their letters after receiving financial aid
offers, though students who send the letters early may be offered grant money in place of a tuition waiver.

 U. Mass.
Lowell said that scholarship status was used in determining financial aid offers and that late notification of scholarship
eligibility results in a recalculation of the aid offer. U. Mass. Boston and Dartmouth also said that scholarship status
was used in determining financial aid offers but claimed that scholarship winners who would otherwise have qualified
for tuition waivers would instead receive other funding.
Finally, those eligible for the scholarship can use it for a maximum of eight fall and spring
semesters only if they graduate from a Massachusetts public high school, are accepted at a Massachusetts public college or university, and enroll at that institution full-time by the fall following
their high school graduation.10 The student must also complete the Free Application for Federal
Student Aid (FAFSA) and send the Adams Scholarship award letter to the financial aid or bursars
office at the institution he or she plans to attend.11 To continue receiving the Adams Scholarship,
a student must continue his or her full-time enrollment at a Massachusetts public college or university, must maintain a cumulative college GPA of at least 3.0, and must complete the FAFSA

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