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Lauren C. Russell

Lauren C. Russell, Michael J. Andrews.

We exploit historical natural experiments to test whether universities increase economic mobility and equality. We use "runner-up’" counties that were strongly considered to become university sites but were not selected for as-good-as-random reasons as counterfactuals for university counties. University establishment causes greater intergenerational income mobility but also increases cross-sectional income inequality. We highlight four findings to explain this seeming paradox: universities hollow out the local labor market and provide greater opportunities to achieve top incomes, both of which increase cross-sectional inequality, and increase educational attainment and connections to high-SES people, which prevent inequality from perpetuating into intergenerational immobility.

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Taylor Odle, Lauren C. Russell.

Reverse transfer associate degrees are credentials retroactively awarded to current bachelor’s degree seekers that combine current four-year credits with credits previously earned at a community college. Providing students with an associate degree may not only increase motivation and persistence en route to completing a bachelor’s but may also provide important labor market benefits by way of increased marketability and earnings potential. Despite the proliferation of reverse transfer policies across at least 15 states to date, there is no causal evidence documenting their effect on students’ outcomes. Leveraging administrative data from Tennessee matched with records on its statewide reverse transfer program and a difference-in-differences design, we find reverse transfer degrees generally have little impact on students’ short- and intermediate-term academic and labor market outcomes. Our results point to suggestive yet small positive gains in GPA and short-term employment for recipients, but these estimates accompany no impacts on bachelor’s degree attainment and estimates that confidently reject any meaningful impacts on recipients’ earnings. Our findings contrast those of existing descriptive works on reverse transfer that reported large benefits for students, due in part to our methodological improvements and more robust data. These findings should guide policymakers considering the adoption, design, and ongoing operation of reverse transfer programs.

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Lauren C. Russell, Lei Yu, Michael J. Andrews.

We investigate how the presence of a college affects local educational attainment using historical natural experiments in which "runner-up" locations were strongly considered to become college sites but ultimately not chosen for as-good-as-random reasons. While runner-up counties have since had opportunity to establish their own colleges, winners are still more likely to have a college today. Using this variation, we find that winning counties today have college degree attainment rates 58% higher than runner-up counties and have larger shares of employment in high human capital sectors. These effects are not driven primarily by college employees, migration, or local development.

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