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Access and admissions
Inequality related to standardized tests in college admissions has long been a subject of discussion; less is known about inequality in non-standardized components of the college application. We analyzed extracurricular activity descriptions in 5,967,920 applications submitted through the Common Application platform. Using human-crafted keyword dictionaries combined with text-as-data (natural language processing) methods, we found that White, Asian American, high-SES, and private school students reported substantially more activities, more activities with top-level leadership roles, and more activities with distinctive accomplishments (e.g., honors, awards). Disparities decrease when accounting for other applicant demographics, school fixed effects, and standardized test scores. Still, salient differences remain, especially those related to first-generation applicants. Implications and recommendations for college admissions policy and practice are discussed.
Detroit students who obtain a college degree overcome many obstacles to do so. This paper reports the results of a randomized evaluation of a program meant to provide support to low-income community college students. The Detroit Promise Path (DPP) program was designed to complement an existing College Promise scholarship, providing students with coaching, summer engagement, and financial incentives. The evaluation found that students offered the program enrolled in more semesters and earned more credits compared with those offered the scholarship alone. However, at the three-year mark, there were no discernable impacts on degrees earned. This paper examines systemic barriers to degree completion and offers lessons for the design of interventions to increase equity in postsecondary attainment.
This study leverages six years of public prekindergarten (PreK) and kindergarten data (N = 22,469) from the Boston Public Schools (BPS) to examine enrollment in BPS PreK from 2012–2017 for students from different racial/ethnic, socioeconomic, and linguistic groups. The largest differences in enrollment emerged with respect to race and ethnicity—and for enrollment in programs in higher-quality schools (defined as schools scoring in the top quartile on third grade standardized tests)—with disparities increasing over time. Although there were no differences across groups in proximity to BPS PreK programs in general, Black students lived about a quarter of a mile further than their White peers from the nearest program in a higher-quality school, with gaps widening over time. Closer proximity was associated with a higher likelihood of enrollment in a program in a higher-quality school. Implications for future research and policy are discussed.
Four-year public colleges may play an important role in supporting intergenerational mobility by providing an accessible path to a bachelor’s degree and increasing students' earnings. Leveraging a midsize state’s GPA- and SAT-based admissions thresholds for the four-year public sector, I use a regression discontinuity design to estimate the effect of four-year public college admissions on earnings and college costs. For low-income students and Black, Hispanic, or Native American students, admission to four-year public colleges increases mean annual earnings by almost $8,000 eight to fourteen years after applying without increasing the private costs of college. The state recovers the cost of an additional four-year public college admission through increased lifetime tax revenue. Expanding access to four-year public colleges may be a particularly effective way to improve the economic outcomes of low-income students and Black, Hispanic, or Native American students.
As affirmative action loses political feasibility, many universities have implemented race-neutral alternatives like top percent policies and holistic review to increase enrollment among disadvantaged students. I study these policies’ application, admission, and enrollment effects using University of California administrative data. UC’s affirmative action and top percent policies increased underrepresented minority (URM) enrollment by over 20 percent and less than 4 percent, respectively. Holistic review increases implementing campuses’ URM enrollment by about 7 percent. Top percent policies and holistic review have negligible effects on lower-income enrollment, while race-based affirmative action modestly increased enrollment among very low-income students. These findings highlight the enrollment gaps between affirmative action and its most common race-neutral alternatives and reveal that available policies do not substantially affect universities’ socioeconomic composition.
Despite the growing popularity of free college proposals, countries with higher college subsidies tend to have higher enrollment rates but not higher graduation rates. To capture this evidence and evaluate potential free college policies, we rely on a dynamic model of college enrollment, performance, and graduation estimated using rich student-level data from Colombia. In the model, student effort affects class completion and mitigates the risk of performing poorly or dropping out. Among our simulated policies, universal free college expands enrollment the most but has virtually no effect on graduation rates, helping explain the cross-country evidence. Performance-based free college triggers a more modest enrollment expansion but delivers a higher graduation rate at a lower fiscal cost. While both programs lower student uncertainty relative to the baseline, performance-based free college does it to a lower extent, which in turn promotes better student outcomes. Overall, free college programs expand enrollment but have limited impacts on graduation and attainment due to their limited impact on student effort.
This study examines the effects of the MATC Promise, a public-private partnership that offered to pay tuition at Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) for local high school graduates. The MATC Promise exemplifies the most common type of college promise program, a last-dollar community college tuition promise. If students completed academic milestones, applied for state and federal aid, and qualified based on low family income, then the Promise would cover any remaining tuition charges. In practice, the message of a promise was the main treatment, since most eligible students would not have any tuition charges remaining for the program to cover after applying state and federal aid. We evaluate the effects of the Promise on increasing college enrollment and degree completion after its introduction in 2016. Milwaukee is unique within the Wisconsin, making it difficult to find relevant comparison groups in statewide data. Examining the interrupted time series within the city’s school districts shows an increase in enrollment at MATC from 10 percent of high school graduates to 15 percent after the Promise was introduced. About half of the increase came from students who would not have enrolled at all, with the rest diverting from enrolling at other colleges and universities. These effects were concentrated among lower-income students and those in the inner city. These results indicate that the Promise positively influenced college attainment by encouraging students to access state and federal aid they already qualified for. We conclude that the message of college affordability was effective at encouraging students to overcome application barriers and enroll in college.
Prediction algorithms are used across public policy domains to aid in the identification of at-risk individuals and guide service provision or resource allocation. While growing research has investigated concerns of algorithmic bias, much less research has compared algorithmically-driven targeting to the counterfactual: human prediction. We compare algorithmic and human predictions in the context of a national college advising program, focusing in particular on predicting high-achieving, lower-income students’ college enrollment quality. College advisors slightly outperform a prediction algorithm; however, greater advisor accuracy is concentrated among students with whom advisors had more interactions. The algorithm achieved similar accuracy among students lower in the distribution of interactions, despite advisors having substantially more information. We find no evidence that the advisors or algorithm exhibit bias against vulnerable populations. Our results suggest that, especially at scale, algorithms have the potential to provide efficient, accurate, and unbiased predictions to target scarce social services and resources.
Education is one of the most important public goods provided by modern governments. Yet governments worldwide seldom perform well in the sector. This raises the question: why do governments preside over poor education quality? This article answers this question with evidence from Tanzania. Using data from surveys, administrative reports, and policy documents, it analyzes changing goals of education policy and associated impacts on access and learning over time. The main finding is that learn- ing has not always been the goal of schooling in Tanzania. Furthermore, for decades the government rationed access to both primary and secondary schooling for ideological reasons. These past policy choices partially explain contemporary poor outcomes in education. This article increase our understanding of the politics of education in low-income states. It also provides a corrective against the common assumption that governments always seek to maximize the provision of public goods and services for political gain.
Despite recent evidence on the benefits of same-race instructor matching in K-12 and higher education, research has yet to document the incidence of same-race matching in the postsecondary sector. That is, how likely are racially minoritized college students to ever experience an instructor of the same race/ethnicity? Using administrative data from Texas on the universe of community college students, we document the rate of same-race matching overall and across racial groups, the courses in which students are more or less likely to match, the types of instructors students most commonly match to, and descriptive differences in course outcomes across matched and unmatched courses. Understanding each of these measures is critical to conceptualize the mechanisms and outcomes of same-race matching and to drive policy action concerning the diversity of the professoriate.