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Access and admissions
Generally, need-based financial aid improves students’ academic outcomes. However, the largest source of need-based grant aid in the United States, the Federal Pell Grant Program (Pell), has a mixed evaluation record. We assess the minimum Pell Grant in a regression discontinuity framework, using Kentucky administrative data. We focus on whether and how year-to-year changes in aid eligibility and interactions with other sources of aid attenuate Pell’s estimated effects on post-secondary outcomes. This evaluation complements past work by assessing explanations for the null or muted impacts found in our analysis and other Pell evaluations. We also discuss the limitations of using regression discontinuity methods to evaluate Pell—or other interventions with dynamic eligibility criteria—with respect to generalizability and construct validity.
Students’ college choices can affect their chances of earning a degree, but many lack the support to navigate the opaque college application and admissions process. This paper evaluates whether guaranteeing four-year college admissions based on transparent academic standards affected community college students’ enrollment choices and graduation rates. Guaranteed admissions increased high-GPA graduates’ transfer rates to highly-selective colleges by 30 percent. Increased transfers to highly-selective colleges also accompanied higher graduation rates and lower student debt. Gains were largest for students with historically lower transfer rates. Transparent admissions standards can increase access to selective colleges at low to no cost.
This paper discusses the importance of incorporating personal assistance into interventions aimed at improving long-term education and labor market success. While existing research demonstrates the cost-effectiveness of low-touch behavioral nudges, this paper argues that the dynamic nature of human capital accumulation requires sustained habits over time. To foster better habits, social connections are critical for encouraging enduring effort and intrinsic motivation. The paper showcases examples from various stages of human capital accumulation, including early childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, in which interventions that incorporate personal assistance substantially out-perform less intensive nudges. We underscore the importance of interactive support, guidance, and motivation in facilitating significant progress and explore the challenges associated with implementing cost-effective policies to provide such assistance.
The impact of test-optional college admissions policies depends on whether applicants act strategically in disclosing test scores. We analyze individual applicants’ standardized test scores and disclosure behavior to 50 major US colleges for entry in fall 2021, when Covid-19 prompted widespread adoption of test-optional policies. Applicants withheld low scores and disclosed high scores, including seeking admissions advantages by conditioning their disclosure choices on their other academic characteristics, colleges’ selectivity and testing policy statements, and the Covid-related test access challenges of the applicants’ local peers. We find only modest differences in test disclosure strategies by applicants’ race and socioeconomic characteristics.
Complexity and uncertainty in the college application process contribute to longstanding racial and socioeconomic disparities in enrollment. We leverage a large-scale experiment that combines an early guarantee of college admission with a proactive nudge, fee waiver, and structural application simplification to test the impacts of emerging “direct admissions” policies on students’ college-going behaviors. Students in the intervention were 2.7 percentage points (or 12%) more likely to submit a college application, with larger impacts for racially minoritized, first-generation, and low-income students. Students were most responsive to automatic offers from larger, higher quality institutions on the application margin, but were not more likely to subsequently enroll. In the face of growing adoption, we show this low-cost, low-touch intervention can move the needle on important college-going behaviors but is insufficient alone to increase enrollment given other barriers to access, including the ability to pay for college.
Teacher rating scales (TRS) are often used to make service eligibility decisions for exceptional learners. Although TRS are regularly used to identify student exceptionalism either as part of an informal nomination process or through behavioral rating scales, there is little research documenting the between-teacher variance in teacher ratings or the consequences of such rater dependence. To evaluate the possible benefits or disadvantages of using TRS as part of a gifted identification process, we examined the student-, teacher-, and school-level variance in TRS controlling for student ability and achievement to determine the unique information, consistency, and potential bias in TRS. Between 10% and 25% of a students’ TRS score can be attributed to the teacher doing the rating, and between-teacher standard deviations represent an effect size of one-third to one-half standard deviation unit. Our results suggest that TRS are not easily comparable across teachers, making it impossible to set a cut score for admission into a program (or for further screening) that functions equitably across teachers.
Not all students who could benefit from college apply. With novel data on over 1.2 million high schoolers, we show that nearly 25% start but never complete a college application. We use descriptive techniques, data visualizations, and fixed effects models to explore this population of college-interested “non-submitters” to observe application behaviors; document differences across individual, school, and community contexts; and identify factors most predictive of non-submission. We find large gaps by race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and education-career plans, as well as by school type and community features. We also find that early application tasks and engagement strongly predict non-submission. This study breaks ground for future research into this unexplored group and informs strategies to support those at risk of non-submission.
There is a growing debate in social science and education policy research on how to improve college access for high-performing students from low-income or first-generation backgrounds. While some studies suggest that providing information to students impacts college access, other studies do not and suggest that students may need more support in the college search and choice processes. Using a regression discontinuity research design with a layered randomized controlled trial, this study examines how information and personal assistance impact SAT scores, college application behaviors, and college enrollment decisions among low-income and first-generation high school students in a large urban school district. The results show that an intensive, multi-year college access program has large, positive effects on applying to a selective college, the number of applications submitted to selective colleges, and enrollment in a selective college. In contrast, a low-touch, general information packet intervention shows null effects on these outcomes. Implications for future nudge interventions and scaling up social capital interventions are discussed.
Purpose. Bilingual programs in the United States, particularly two-way dual language immersion (TWDL) programs, have been implemented since the 1960s to support the education of English Learner-classified (EL-classified) and language minoritized students. Over the past decade, TWDL programs have grown significantly across the United States. This study examines TWDL program growth in Los Angeles Unified School District, exploring the relationships between program expansion and neighborhood change, enrollment declines, and school choice. These factors have been linked to decreased access to these programs for language minoritized students. Research Methods/Approach. We descriptively examine the neighborhood characteristics of TWDL schools over a 22-year period using publicly available school, census, and housing data, and investigate the relationship between these factors and TWDL emergence. Findings. We find that of the three factors we explored, enrollment change (specifically declining enrollment) and the existence of nearby charter schools are two factors most likely to be associated with TWDL program emergence. We find little evidence that TWDL are primarily emerging in gentrifying contexts. Implications. This study helps us understand general, decade-long trends of TWDL program expansion and dispersion in a district undergoing many of the phenomena described in the literature on this topic.
Guidance counselors provide the main source of college advising for low-income high school students, but are woefully understaffed in high-need schools. This paper evaluates an approach to school-based college advising that relies on teachers rather than counselors. Using a randomized control trial in sixty-two Michigan high schools, I estimate the effects of a college planning course for high school seniors on postsecondary enrollment, persistence, and degree receipt. The course teaches about postsecondary education opportunities, application processes, and strategies for persisting toward a degree. I find no effect of the course on the number of students entering college, but an increase in the number persisting and earning a degree, particularly among low-income students. This is due to a shift in the composition of enrollees toward higher-achieving students: the course increases enrollment among high-achieving, low-income students, who have relatively high persistence rates, and reduces enrollment among low-achieving students, who in the course’s absence would have enrolled and then quickly dropped out. The program’s main cost is potential learning loss from displaced time in other subjects, which is difficult to measure but appears small.