Postsecondary Success: Theory of Change

If Helios strengthens student supports critical to persistence and aligns pathways to relevant, high demand careers, then increasing numbers of traditionally underserved students in Arizona and Florida will attain a valued postsecondary degree or certificate.

What We Know:

Young adults with certificates and degrees will be better positioned to successfully compete for tomorrow’s jobs.

Young adults with

certificates and degrees

will be better positioned to successfully compete for tomorrow's jobs.(1)

By 2020, more than 60% of jobs will require some form of postsecondary education.

By 2020,

more than 60% of jobs

will require some form of postsecondary education.(2)

59% of Arizona students


54% of Florida students

require remediation

upon entry into college — a leading deterrent to postsecondary completion.(3) (4)
The National Science Foundation estimates that 80% of today's workforce requires the logic, reasoning, discipline and decision-making skills developed through math and science curriculum.



of full-time students in Arizona

earn a two-year degree within three years.(6)



of full-time students in Florida

earn a two-year degree within three years.(7)

the challenge:

1. Large numbers of full-time students not completing a postsecondary credential

2. Too many students require remediation

3. Students often don't see the relevancy of their education to their career goals

Critical student supports such as academic advising and scholarships are disconnected from programs of study.(8)

Among the working-age adults in Arizona, only 26.4% have a bachelor's degree or higher, and 34.5% have an associate's degree or higher.

In Florida, only 26% have a bachelor's degree or higher, and 34.6% have an associate's degree or higher.(9)

our focus:

1. Better facilitate successful transition to credit bearing courses

2. Provide scholarships that support persistence and completion

3. Directly tie paths of study to career opportunities

Our Perspective:

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Rewarding Future Performance

College scholarships are often viewed as a means of increasing access to higher education, especially for low-income or first-time college students. But what if scholarships could also be incentives -- motivating students to enroll in courses, to succeed in courses and to persist in studies from semester to semester?

Helios Education Foundation has partnered with MDRC, a national research organization, to test that concept in Arizona and Florida.

Since 2010, the Foundation has invested $3.2 million to support performance-based scholarship programs at Pima Community College in Tucson, Arizona and Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Florida.

While evaluation of the two programs is ongoing, preliminary results are encouraging, suggesting that with the right structure of incentives and academic supports, students who might not otherwise enroll, complete or succeed in college-level studies can find success.

"Performance-based scholarships combined with required participation in student services represent a new wave of thinking in financial aid and service delivery," comments Linda Thompson, Helios Education Foundation's Senior Vice President and Chief Impact Officer. "These needs-based awards use financial incentives to motivate changes in behavior, and unlike merit aid, performance-based scholarships reward future, rather than past performance."

While the Foundation invests across the full education continuum, from early childhood education to postsecondary success, the ultimate goal is to better prepare students for college and career.

Identifying new strategies that can motivate more students to successfully complete the culminating years of their education can have significant implications for students and for the economic vitality of communities.

Pima Community College
Tucson, Arizona
Pima Community College is a two-year institution with six campus locations around Tucson in Pima County. About one third of its 65,000 students are Hispanic.

In the Tucson metropolitan area, near the Mexico border, the population is heavily Hispanic (42 percent of the population) and has low levels of educational achievement. Only about one-quarter of Pima County adults over age 25 have received a Bachelor's degree, and only 11 percent of Hispanic males have done so.

National research indicates that Hispanic students -- particularly males -- have lower college completion rates than their white counterparts, and Hispanic men may be more likely to forego college for work, enter college less prepared and be more reluctant to ask for help. They tend to be debt-averse and are less likely to seek financial assistance in the form of college loans.

In 2010, Helios partnered with MDRC to offer 500 low-income Hispanic male students a Pima Community College financial assistance program that was structured as a series of incentive payments:

  • Students who earned at least a 2.0 GPA in 6-11 credits (typically two to three courses) and accessed academic support services could earn up to $600 a semester for three semesters.
  • Students who earned at least a 2.0 GPA in 12 or more credits (typically four or more courses) and accessed academic support services could earn up to $1,500 a semester for three semesters.

Students would be required to participate in orientation and advising sessions and other specific support services.

By offering the financial assistance at strategic points throughout the semester and the bulk of the payment only upon successful completion of courses, Helios and MDRC sought to tie financial aid to performance.

"By increasing significantly the award for students carrying a "full-time" class load, we hoped to encourage more intensive college-engagement," said Barbara Ryan Thompson, Helios' Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. "And even more so, by offering the assistance over three semesters, we hoped to encourage persistence."

Preliminary results show that students in the program earned more credits and were more likely to attend full-time than students in a control group. In the first semester, about two-thirds of the participants received the maximum possible financial award; in the second semester about 55 percent received the maximum.

Hillsborough Community College
Tampa, Florida
While the Pima Community College program focused on a specific student population, the Hillsborough Community College program focused on specific studies -- mathematics.

At HCC, a two-year institution that is home to roughly 27,000 students in the greater Tampa area, many students are required to take a series of math classes to better prepare students for college-level math.

The performance-based scholarships at HCC focused on timely and successful completion of three critical math courses: developmental math, transitional algebra and the first level of college math. Low pass rates for the courses indicated that they were difficult for students. Frequently, students postponed taking the classes or did not take the classes in succession.

The scholarships were structured to provide a small award ($100) to students who enrolled in the class and a more substantial award ($500) to students who participated in academic support programs and completed the course with a 2.0 grade or higher. Those students whose final grade was an A or B received an additional award in the form of financial support for books for a subsequent math course.

Students participating in the program had a total of four semesters to complete the three courses, creating flexibility for those who might fail a course and have to repeat. Additionally, students who might fail to earn the award one semester were still eligible for the award in subsequent semesters.

Beginning in fall 2010, 1,075 students at two HCC campuses were randomly assigned to the program and control groups. The sample was two-thirds female, equally mixed by race and ethnicity, with an average age of 27. One third were the first in their family to attend college and one quarter spoke a language other than English in their home.

In the first semester, 54 percent received awards for successfully completing the course and 36 percent had grades high enough to earn awards for books for the next semester. In the second semester, 36 percent received awards for successful completion with 11 percent receiving support for the next semester.

Third semester results are not yet available.

"Performance-based scholarships are unique because they seek to tackle head on the academic hurdles students face by incentivizing them to enroll and succeed in a particular sequence of math courses, voiced Ryan Thompson. "We are still learning about the effectiveness of this approach and will continue to share our findings as to whether performance-based scholarships can effect positive improvements in a student's overall course completion and advancement."

Our Investments:

Postsecondary Success

In 2012, Helios invested over $1.495 million to strengthen student supports critical to persistence and align pathways to relevant, high demand careers.

Partner / Program Name

Arizona Diamondbacks Foundation / Diamondbacks Helios Scholars Program
Scholarship partnership with Arizona College Scholarship Fund, including a mentoring initiative to ensure postsecondary success. Visit Website

$ 500,000

Foundation for Florida Colleges /
Credit When It's Due

Facilitates the awarding of an associate's degree to students who transferred from a college system to a state university prior to completing the associate's degree, and who meet degree requirements. Visit Website

$ 495,000

Rays Baseball Foundation / Double Up for Education
Scholarship partnership with Take Stock in Children including student supports to ensure postsecondary success. Visit Website

$ 500,000


Postsecondary Success Statistical Reference Page

  1. Occupational Outlook Handbook, (2010), U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics,
  2. A Decade Behind, (July 2012) Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce,
  3. Remediation: Higher Education's Bridge to Nowhere, (2012), Complete College America (2012),
  4. Remediation: Higher Education's Bridge to Nowhere, State Profiles, (2012), Complete College America (2012),
  5. National Science Foundation, (2012), //www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind12/figures.htm and //www.naaweb.org/default.asp?contentID=643
  6. Time is the Enemy, (2011), Complete College America,
  7. Time is the Enemy, (2011), Complete College America,
  8. A Matter of Degrees: Promising Practices for Community College Student Success, (2012), Center for Community College Student Engagement,
  9. 2007-2011 American Community Survey, US Census Bureau,