The Annenberg Institute at Brown University offers this national working paper series to provide open access to high-quality papers from multiple disciplines and from multiple universities and research organizations on a wide variety of topics related to education. EdWorkingPapers focuses particularly on research with strong implications for education policy. EdWorkingPapers circulates papers prior to publication for comment and discussion; these papers have not gone through a peer review processes. Contributors can update papers to provide readers with the most up-to-date findings.
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Given the simultaneous rise in time-to-graduation and college GPA, it may be that students reduce their course load to improve their performance. Yet, evidence to date only shows increased course loads increase GPA. We provide a mathematical model showing many unobservable factors -- beyond student ability -- can generate a positive relationship between course load and GPA unless researchers control student schedules. West Point regularly implements the ideal experiment by randomly modifying student schedules with additional training courses. Using 19 years of administrative data, we provide the first causal evidence that taking more courses reduces GPA and increases course failure rates, sometimes substantially.