This systematic synthesis examines the intended and unintended consequences of performance-based funding (PBF) policies in higher education. Within this synthesis, we focus particularly on evidence from research studies with strong causal inference designs in an effort to understand the impacts of these policies. PBF adoption is generally associated with null or modest positive effects on the intended outcomes of retention and graduation, but there is also compelling evidence that PBF policies lead to unintended outcomes related to restricting access, gaming of the PBF system, and disadvantages for underserved student groups and under-resourced institution types. PBF policies including equity provisions for colleges that enroll or graduate underserved student groups have been found to offset some of these unintended consequences. Based on this synthesis, we offer policy recommendations and directions for future research on PBF policies, including the need to consider variation in policy design and the broader state policy context.
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