One contributing factor to gaps in academic achievement may be that some students perceive long-term educational goals, such as college, as financially out of reach, which can make schoolwork feel meaningless even several years before college. However, information that leads students to perceive that the financial path to college is open for them (i.e., need-based financial aid) can increase school motivation.

Two classroom-based field experiments expand this area of theory and research. Early adolescent students who were randomly assigned to receive information about need-based financial aid (open path condition) showed greater school motivation than those who were randomly assigned to a control condition, specifically if they came from low-asset households. In a second exploratory experiment, the open path effect was mediated by an increased likelihood that students envision a future career that includes college (education-dependent identity). Implications for the study of identity and disparities in academic achievement are discussed.