Evaluation of the Talent Search Program

Prepared for
U.S. Department of Education

Research has shown that college graduates have higher lifetime earnings and are more engaged in their communities than students who complete only high school. Yet low-income students and those whose parents have not attended college are less likely than their middle- and upper-income peers to finish high school and go on to college. As a result, they are also less likely to reap the economic and other benefits of doing so.

Mathematica conducted the first national evaluation of the Talent Search program in more than 25 years. Talent Search is one of the three original TRIO programs established by the federal government in the 1960s to help increase the college enrollment rate of low-income middle and high school students whose parents did not attend college. The program identifies qualified youths with potential for postsecondary education programs, publicizes the availability of student financial aid, and encourages secondary and postsecondary school dropouts to re-enter an educational program. In 2000, Talent Search served 320,000 students across the country, at an average cost of $313 per person.

A report analyzes the effectiveness of Talent Search in Florida, Indiana, and Texas, drawing on project, state, and federal administrative records to examine program outcomes for program participants and a matched comparison group. Researchers found that Talent Search participants were more likely than comparison students to apply for federal financial aid and enroll in public postsecondary institutions. The findings suggest that assisting low-income students to overcome information barriers may be effective in helping them achieve their aspirations to attend college. Practical information—such as guidance on how to complete financial aid and admission applications and what a college campus looks and feels like—may have been one of the key services that Talent Search delivered.

Read the What Works Clearinghouse intervention report on Talent Search, showing that the program has potentially positive effects on high school completion.