Do Additional Dollars Buy Engagement? Effects of Monetary Incentives on Attending Financial Aid Counseling for At-Risk Students

Executive Summary
Insights Report
Research Dialogue

Many university students struggle financially to remain enrolled in school, particularly those from less-wealthy families. Financial counseling can make a notable difference.


To help students navigate the complex world of student financial aid, including grants and loans, the Office of Student Financial Services (SFS) at Georgia State University has a Student Financial Management Center that provides proactive advising. Yet, despite the availability of these services and proactive outreach from the Center, many students, even those in dire need of financial assistance, never come for counseling. This study examines whether modest financial incentives increase uptake of financial aid counseling, the impact of such counseling, and whether counseling is more (or less) effective for hard-to-reach populations who require larger incentives to participate.

Key Insights

  • Only 1.3%of students who weren’t offered a financial incentive attended an appointment for financial advising. 
  • Financial incentives boosted financial advising engagement. Every $10 in incentives increased the likelihood that students scheduled an appointment by nearly one additional percentage point.  
  • Students who attended counseling because of the incentives did not have different outcomes from those who attended without a financial incentive, regardless of how much was paid to induce them to attend.

Access to financial aid can play a role in college attendance and completion, but aid alone is likely not sufficient. Financial literacy, student supports, advising, and financial aid design also can play equal if not outsized roles.


The researchers designed an experiment to test the effects of financial incentives on students who were receiving funding from SFS. The experiment included inviting some students to attend counseling with no financial incentive to do so, while offering other students between $10 and $100 to attend either a virtual or in-person counseling session.

Figure 3. Per-dollar percent increase over treatment


James C. Cox

Georgia State University

Daniel Kreisman

Georgia State University

Stephen Shore

Georgia State University

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