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Access and admissions
How much does family demand matter for child learning in contexts of extreme poverty? In rural Gambia, families with high aspirations for their children's future education and career, measured before children start school, go on to invest substantially more than other families in their children’s education. Despite this, essentially no children are literate or numerate three years later. When villages receive a highly-impactful, teacher-focused supply-side intervention, however, children of these families are 25 percent more likely to achieve literacy and numeracy than other children in the same village. Furthermore, improved supply enables these children to acquire other higher-level skills necessary for later learning and child development. In such settings, greater demand can map onto developmentally meaningful learning differences, but only with adequate complementary inputs.
Colleges can send signals about their quality by adopting new, more alluring names. We study how this affects college choice and labor market performance of college graduates. Administrative data show name-changing colleges enroll higher-aptitude students, with larger effects for alluring-but-misleading name changes and among students with less information. A large resume audit study suggests a small premium for new college names in most jobs, and a significant penalty in lower-status jobs. We characterize student and employer beliefs using web-scraped text, surveys, and other data. Our study shows signals designed to change beliefs can have real, lasting impacts on market outcomes.
A pervasive issue in the school choice literature is whether schools of choice cream-skim students by enrolling high-achieving, less challenging, or less costly students. Similarly, schools of choice may “pushout” low-achieving, more challenging, or more costly students. Using longitudinal student-level data from Indiana, we created multiple measures to examine whether there is evidence consistent with the claims of voucher-participating private schools cream skimming the best students from public schools or pushing out voucher-receiving students. We do not find evidence consistent the claim of cream skimming. However, we find evidence consistent with the claim of private schools pushing out the lowest achieving voucher students.
Counselors are a common school resource for students navigating complicated and con- sequential education choices. I estimate counselors’ causal effects using quasi-random assignment policies in Massachusetts. Counselors vary substantially in their effectiveness at increasing high school graduation and college attendance, selectivity, and persistence. Counselor effects on educational attainment are similar in magnitude to teacher effects, but they flow through improved information and assistance more than cognitive or non-cognitive skill development. Counselor effectiveness is most important for low-income and low-achieving students, so improving access to effective counseling may be a promising way to increase educational attainment and close socioeconomic gaps in education.
In this paper, I study the causal relationship between violence and human capital accumulation. Due to a power vacuum left in conflict zones of Colombia after the 2016 peace agreement, large spikes in violence were reported in the municipalities of the country dominated by the rebel group FARC. I compare student test scores in municipalities that experienced the increase in violence to the ones that did not, before and after the national peace agreement. I find that a 10 percent increase in the homicide rate reduces average high school test scores by approximately 0.03 standard deviations. However, this impact is greater in the case of poor students who suffered a reduction of about 0.1 standard deviations per subject area, equivalent to 3.3 percentage points out of the final score. I also consider heterogeneity by gender finding a slightly larger negative impact on female students. This disparate effect on women and on the poorest students adds new evidence to the literature on the effects of armed conflict on learning outcomes.
To boost college graduation rates, policymakers often advocate for academic supports such as coaching or mentoring. Proactive and intensive coaching interventions are effective, but are costly and difficult to scale. We evaluate a relatively lower-cost group coaching program targeted at first-year college students placed on academic probation. Participants attend a workshop where coaches aim to normalize failure and improve self-confidence. Coaches also facilitate a process whereby participants reflect on their academic difficulties, devise solutions to address their challenges, and create an action plan. Participants then hold a one-time follow-up meeting with their coach or visit a campus resource. Using a difference-in-discontinuity design, we show that the program raises students’ first-year GPA by 14.6% of a standard deviation, and decreases the probability of first-year dropout by 8.5 percentage points. Effects are concentrated among lower-income students who also experience a significant increase in the probability of graduating. Finally, using administrative data we provide the first evidence that coaching/mentoring may have substantial long-run effects as we document significant gains in lower-income students’ earnings 7–9 years following entry to the university. Our findings indicate that targeted, group coaching can be an effective way to improve marginal students’ academic and early career outcomes.
Performance-based funding models for higher education, which tie state support for institutions to performance on student outcomes, have proliferated in recent decades. Some states have designed these policies to also address educational attainment gaps by including bonus payments for traditionally low-performing groups. Using a Synthetic Control Method research design, we examine the impact of these funding regimes on race-based completion gaps in Tennessee and Ohio. We find no evidence that performance-based funding narrowed race-based completion gaps. In fact, contrary to their intended purpose, we find that performance-based funding widened existing gaps in certificate completion in Tennessee. Across both states, the estimated impacts on associate degree outcomes are also directionally consistent with performance-based funding exacerbating racial inequities in associate degree attainment.
The federal government and many individual organizations have invested in programs to support diversity in the STEM pipeline, including STEM summer programs for high school students, but there is little rigorous evidence of their efficacy. We fielded a randomized controlled trial to study a suite of such programs targeted to underrepresented high school students at an elite, technical institution. The STEM summer programs differ in their length (one week, six weeks, or six months) and modality (on-site or online). Students offered seats in the STEM summer programs are more likely to enroll in, persist through, and graduate from college, with gains in institutional quality coming from both the host institution and other elite universities. The programs also increase the likelihood that students graduate with a degree in a STEM field, with the most intensive program increasing four-year graduation with a STEM degree attainment by 33 percent. The shift to STEM degrees increases potential earnings by 2 to 6 percent. Program-induced gains in college quality fully account for the gains in graduation, but gains in STEM degree attainment are larger than predicted based on institutional differences.
Can public university honors programs deliver the benefits of selective undergraduate education within otherwise nonselective institutions? We evaluate the impact of admission to the Honors College at Oregon State University, a large nonselective public university. Admission to the Honors College depends heavily on a numerical application score. Nonlinearities in admissions probabilities as a function of this score allow us to compare applicants with similar scores, but different admissions outcomes, via a fuzzy regression kink design. The first stage is strong, with takeup of Honors College programming closely following nonlinearities in admissions probabilities. To estimate the causal effect of Honors College admission on human capital formation, we use these nonlinearities in the admissions function as instruments, combined with course-section fixed effects to account for strategic course selection. Honors College admission increases course grades by 0.10 grade points on the 0-4 scale, or 0.14 standard deviations. Effects are concentrated at the top of the course grade distribution. Previous exposure to Honors sections of courses in the same subject is a leading potential channel for increased grades. However, course grades of first-generation students decrease in response to Honors admission, driven by low performance in natural science courses. Results suggest that selective Honors programs can accelerate skill acquisition for high-achieving students at public universities, but not all students benefit from Honors admission.
The absence of federal support leaves undocumented students reliant on state policies to financially support their postsecondary education. We descriptively examine the postsecondary trajectories of tens of thousands of undocumented students newly eligible for California’s state aid program, using detailed application data to compare them to similar peers. In this context, undocumented students who apply and are eligible for the program use grant aid to attend college at rates similar to their peers. Undocumented students remain more likely to enroll in a community college at the expense of attending a broad access four-year college and have higher exit rates from two-year colleges. Yet undocumented students are equally likely to attend the more selective University of California system, and across four-year public colleges have persistence rates similar to their peers, showing that those who do attend four-year colleges perform well.