Opening Doors

Local governments can invest in this strategy using State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

  • This strategy can help address educational disparities. The U.S. Department of Treasury has indicated that strategies that help achieve this outcome are eligible for the use of Fiscal Recovery Funds.
  • Investments in this strategy are SLFRF-eligible as long as they are made in qualified census tracts or are designed to assist populations or communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

Program basics

  • Four distinct programs testing four different groups of community college students
  • Performance-based scholarships—up to $1,000 for each of two semesters if students maintained a C or better GPA, with counselors monitoring student progress
  • Learning communities providing linked courses requiring developmental English alongside enhanced counseling, tutoring, and vouchers for textbook purchases
  • Enhanced academic counseling, including a small stipend
  • Enhanced targeted services—for students on probation, providing “student success” courses covering topics such as time management, study skills. and college rules

Strength of evidence

Evidence level: Promising (Third-highest tier)


Promising (Third-highest tier)

Opening Doors is not yet in any of the major clearinghouses, but has demonstrated positive results in an independent, high-quality evaluation conducted by MDRC.

Target population

Students enrolled in post-secondary education

Program cost

Approximately $1,300 per participant

Implementation locations

  • New York, New Orleans, Ohio

Dates active


Outcomes and impact

  • Performance-based scholarships—increased enrollment, persistence, and credit accumulation
  • Learning communities—increased course completion and credit accumulation
  • Enhanced academic counseling—modest impact on registration
  • Enhanced targeted services—increased credit accumulation and academic achievement, moved students off probation

Keys to successful implementation

  • Given that students face a variety of institutional and personal barriers to success, employ a holistic approach that incorporates elements of each major strategy – financial incentives, reforms in instructional practices, and enhancements in students services.
  • Use financial incentives tied to academic performance. This is where the program can produce some of its largest positive effects.
  • When using a non-financial strategy, such as reforming instructional practices, provide students with necessary tools to succeed, such as tutoring, enhanced counseling, and vouchers for books, in addition to the college’s standard courses and services.
  • When appropriate, consider requiring student participation for high need or targeted populations to ensure participation in program services – such as those moving off of probation or needing development English courses.

Similar programs