State think tank Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) has outlined several recommendations to improve the design and implementation of the college scholarship grants for the children of Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) beneficiaries.

In a forum organized by PIDS and the Congressional Planning and Budget Research Department (CPBRD) of the House of Representatives, PIDS Senior Research Fellow Aniceto Orbeta presented the findings of a PIDS study that evaluated the operational issues and impacts of the Students Grants-in-Aid Program for Poverty Alleviation (SGP-PA).

The SGP-PA, which was introduced in 2012, has been expanded in 2014 to become the Expanded SGP-PA or the ESGP-PA. It aims to alleviate poverty by increasing the number of college graduates among poor households and eventually getting them employed in high value-added occupations.

The SGP-PA is intended for identified 4Ps households. It provides a grant that is sufficient to cover the usual education expenses. The grant consists of PHP 10,000 per semester for tuition and other fees, PHP 2,500 per semester for textbooks and other learning materials, and PHP 3,500 per month for 10 school months as stipend. Living allowance is also provided. The total grant amounts to PHP 60,000 per academic year per student.

The ESGP-PA is being implemented by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the Department of Labor and Employment, and selected state universities and colleges (SUCs). Initially, the SGP-PA provided scholarship to 4,041 students from identified and classified poor households. This number increased by 36,412 beneficiaries under the ESGP-PA starting academic year 2014-2015, bringing the total number of beneficiaries to 40,453. The number of implementing SUCs also increased from 35 to 112 across the country.

Given that the success of the program is measured based on the number of grantees that are able to graduate, Orbeta emphasized the importance of choosing grantees who have a relatively high likelihood of completing their degrees.

Enforcing admission exams, according to Orbeta, is one way of achieving this objective. This recommendation was based on the result that shows a strong correlation between entrance exams scores and academic performance in core subjects.

Orbeta also reiterated the importance of full financing for scholarship programs such as the ESGP-PA, which are targeted to poor households.

"There are other school-related expenses that are not covered by the grant but are necessary for the students to complete their degrees. For example, there is no budget allocation for summer courses, on-the-job trainings, national competency exams, field trips, and thesis," Orbeta explained.

The study also pointed out aspects of the program that are not within the academic realm. As most grantees experience cultural change from being relocated to a more urbanized setting, there should be interventions to help them cope with these changes.

"With appropriate interventions, well-selected students with poor socioeconomic background are able to perform as good as their peers. The results show that the effect of their poorer socioeconomic background is reflected only in their poorer grades in the first year. By the second year, they are already performing at par in Math and even better than their peers in Science and English," Orbeta explained.

Lastly, Orbeta calls for the institution of a well-thought-out monitoring system so that critical features of the program can be rigorously assessed.

Orbeta’s study on the SGP-PA is part of a series of impact evaluation (IE) studies conducted by PIDS to evaluate the effectiveness and impacts of key government programs and projects. IE is a special type of research that allows policymakers and program implementers to ascertain whether a particular program is achieving its objectives and whether the results are attributable to the intervention. ###

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