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Evaluation database

Evaluation report

2015 Costa Rica: Evaluation of the Conditional Cash Transfer Program Avancemos

Author: Dr. Jaime A. Meza-Cordero, Dr. Maurice Kugler, Dra. Michaela Gulemetova, Lic. Danelly Salas-Ocampo, Bach. César Rodríguez-Barrantes and M.A. Verónica Campos-Barrantes

Executive summary

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The Avancemos Program was developed by the Government of Costa Rica to combat the rising problem of drop-out and abandonment in secondary school. The program was established through Executive Decree No. 33154 on May 8th 2006, with the objective of promoting school attendance for adolescents that belong to families living in poverty. This conditional cash transfer was designed to provide monetary compensation to beneficiary households with the requirement that their students regularly attend secondary school. The government institution responsible for managing and implementing the program at the national level is the IMAS.


Main objective
The main objective of this evaluation is to assess the performance and impact of the Avancemos Program after nine years of implementation. The evaluation will study the relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, impact and sustainability of the program.

Specific objectives

  • Study the establishment and development of the program since its creation.
  • Identify if the results obtained by the program meet original expectations and objectives.
  • Assess whether the program is being executed in the most efficient manner.
  • Quantify what have been the effects generated by the program in relation to school attendance, education completion levels, labor market participation, and hours worked.
  • Determine whether the program has an adequate and sustainable operation that can optimally transfer the benefits to families in poverty and extreme poverty.


This evaluation was conducted utilizing a mixed methods methodology. The implementation of the program was evaluated through three qualitative techniques: 1) an extensive document review of previous studies, decrees, guidelines, regulations and other relevant documentation; 2) semi-structured interviews with administrative key informants, program experts, and teachers of secondary schools; and 3) focus groups discussions with beneficiary parents and students to debate their perception of Avancemos.
The impacts of the program were obtained through a quantitative approach utilizing existing data from the National Household Surveys conducted by the National Institute of Statistics and Census of Costa Rica (INEC). The effects of the program were estimated using Propensity Score Matching techniques and data from 2014. The impact evaluation quantified the effects generated by the program to beneficiary students in school attendance, education completion, labor force participation and hours dedicated to paid and domestic work.

Findings and Conclusions:

For over 9 years, Avancemos has become the national conditional cash transfer program intended to support vulnerable secondary school students. This evaluation found that parents and students have a very positive perception of the program and agree that it was the support they needed to cover the expenses of the secondary school system. Parents and students also agree that once in the program, the transfer is deposited monthly into their bank accounts. The evaluation also found that although financial aid is a key component to determine permanence in the classroom, student motivation is another crucial factor that must be considered.
One of the main challenges that the Avancemos Program has is incorporating new beneficiaries in a timely manner. Most of the new beneficiaries are students in the first level of secondary school, 7th grade. The evaluation identified several cases of new beneficiaries that did not receive their first transfers on time. The main complication listed is the transition from primary school scholarships administered by the National Scholarship Fund (FONABE) toward the Avancemos transfer for secondary school administered by IMAS, which in numerous cases delayed the financial support to the students for several months at a crucial time in their educational path. Another challenge that the program has been facing is the procedures for registering and maintaining the student in the program, which are often times perceived as complicated and confusing. Various parents also expressed that the amount received is not enough to cover the increasing expenditures of secondary education.


The evaluation team recommends IMAS to seek better inter-institutional coordination with FONABE and the Ministry of Public Education (MEP) to improve their transitional processes; more specifically, transferring financial support from elementary to secondary school, and the verification of attendance compliance. We also suggest that the Avancemos Program unify the rules of their program and develop an information and awareness campaign to IMAS staff across all regional offices. IMAS is also encouraged to establish a technical criterion to transparently determine and update the amount of the transfer. Finally, IMAS is recommended to establish a monitoring and evaluation system. This would allow them to gather updated information that will facilitate a proactive search for potential beneficiaries currently excluded. In addition this would track current beneficiaries in order to make timely program corrections and modifications based on empirical evidence.

Lessons Learned:

Even after having identified existing challenges, this evaluation provides empirical evidence that the program leads to beneficiaries staying in classrooms. The empirical results also provide causal evidence that the completed years of education have increased because of Avancemos. Finally, this evaluation found that the program reduced the total hours worked by beneficiaries, both for paid and domestic work

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Report information


Costa Rica


Social Policy


Mixed Institute for Social Aid (IMAS)

IMPAQ International (IMPAQ)


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