The goal of MCER is to engage key stakeholders and experts in high quality education research for the benefit of public education in Michigan and nationwide. To reach this goal MCER is currently working on a project to evaluate the impact of the Michigan Merit Curriculum and the Michigan Promise Scholarship on student outcomes.

The Impact of the Michigan Merit Curriculum and the Michigan Promise Scholarship on Student Outcomes


In spring 2006, Michigan adopted one of the most comprehensive sets of high school graduation requirements in the country, known as the Michigan Merit Curriculum. The new requirements are meant to ensure that students have knowledge and skills to succeed in college and the workplace. Starting with the Class of 2011, the Michigan Merit Curriculum requires all high school students to pass a set of 16 rigorous academic courses, including Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II, Biology, and Chemistry or Physics.

At the same time, Michigan enacted a new merit-based scholarship program, the Michigan Promise Scholarship, to help students afford to enroll in and complete college. Students in the graduating Classes of 2007, 2008, and 2009 who meet certain academic standards were eligible for up to $4,000 for college. Students could qualify for the aid by either receiving a passing grade in all subjects on the Michigan Merit Exam or completing two years of postsecondary education at an approved institution with a cumulative grade point average of at least 2.5.

Project Objectives

Primary Objective

This project will assess the implementation and impact of these two recent reforms designed to promote college attendance and success. The primary objective of the project is to determine whether the Merit Curriculum and/or the Promise Scholarship have significantly altered:

  1. course-taking
  2. student achievement
  3. high school graduation rates
  4. postsecondary attendance

We are particularly interested in learning whether these reforms are affecting students differentially based on their socioeconomic status, gender, race and geography.

Secondary Objective

An important secondary objective is to build capacity in Michigan for conducting high quality evaluations of education policy. In the course of this project, we will construct a longitudinal student database for ten cohorts that tracks students over time and includes information on school enrollment, achievement scores, course-taking patterns, high school graduation and college attendance.

Research Design

This project uses quasi-experimental methods to capture effects of both the Michigan Merit Curriculum and the Michigan Promise Scholarship. Relying upon the rich and detailed longitudinal student database we use an interrupted time-series (ITS) design to identify the impact of the Michigan Merit Curriculum on student outcomes. Controlling for student and school characteristics, including individual students' prior achievement as well as events and policies whose implementation is coincident with the Michigan Merit Curriculum, the ITS design compares the trends in student outcomes of six pre-Michigan Merit Curriculum cohorts to the trends in student outcomes for four post-Michigan Merit Curriculum cohorts. To identify the effect of the Michigan Promise Scholarship on college entry, choice, and completion, we exploit the discontinuous Michigan Promise Scholarship eligibility requirement. Eligibility for the initial MPS award is determined by whether or not a student's Michigan Merit Exam score is greater than the arbitrary cut-score. The regression discontinuity design compares the outcomes of students just above and just below the MME cut-score.

Significance of Results

The results from this project will provide useful policy feedback to state officials that will allow them to make any mid-course adjustments that the evaluation suggests would be beneficial. Moreover, since both the Merit Curriculum and Promise Scholarship are similar to reforms already enacted or planned in other states, we anticipate that our findings will also inform the national dialogue on high school policy.