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Access and admissions
Multiple studies have documented the positive effect of school choice on college attendance. We focus instead on the quality of colleges, which is linked to higher graduation rates and later-in-life wages, especially for Black and Hispanic students. We examine the effect of the New Orleans school reforms, a district-wide reform creating an almost all-charter school district, on the quality of colleges that students attended. Using difference-in-differences analysis of statewide microdata, we find that the reforms led students to attend four-year colleges, and higher-quality ones, at higher rates. The reforms also increased the share of college-goers who were well matched to their colleges and this had little effect on transfer or persistence rates. Overall, these results reinforce that the reforms led students to attend higher-quality colleges that will improve long-term life outcomes.
To evaluate how Advanced Placement courses affect college-going, we randomly assigned the offer of enrollment into an AP science course to over 1,800 students in 23 schools that had not previously offered the course. We find no substantial AP course effects on students’ plans to enroll in college or on their college entrance exam scores. Yet AP course-takers enroll in less selective colleges than their control group counterparts. Negative treatment effects on college selectivity appear to be driven more by low student preparation than teacher inexperience and by students’ matriculation decisions rather than institutional admissions decisions.
Despite the significant influence that peer motivation is likely to have on educational investments during high school, it is difficult to test empirically since exogenous changes in peer motivation are rarely observed. In this paper, I focus on the 2012 introduction of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to study a setting in which peer motivation changed sharply for a subset of high school students. DACA significantly increased the returns to schooling for undocumented youth, while leaving the returns for their peers unchanged. I find that DACA induced undocumented youth to invest more in their education, which also had positive spillover effects on ineligible students (those born in the US) who attended high school with high concentrations of DACA-eligible youth. JEL Codes: I26, H52, J15
We examine U.S. children whose parents won the lottery to trace out the effect of financial resources on college attendance. The analysis leverages federal tax and financial aid records and substantial variation in win size and timing. While per-dollar effects are modest, the relationship is weakly concave, with a high upper bound for amounts greatly exceeding college costs. Effects are smaller among low-SES households, not sensitive to how early in adolescence the shock occurs, and not moderated by financial aid crowd-out. The results imply that households derive consumption value from college and household financial constraints alone do not inhibit attendance.
Growing experimental evidence demonstrates that low-touch informational, nudge, and virtual advising interventions are ineffective at improving postsecondary educational outcomes for economically-disadvantaged students at scale. Intensive in-person college advising programs are a considerably higher-touch and more resource intensive strategy; some programs provide students with dozen of hours of individualized assistance starting in high school and continuing through college, and can cost thousands of dollars per student served. Despite the magnitude of this investment, causal evidence on these programs' impact is quite limited, particularly for programs that serve Hispanic students, the fastest growing segment of U.S. college enrollees. We contribute new evidence on the impact of intensive college advising programs through a multi-cohort RCT of College Forward, which provides individualized advising from junior year of high school through college for a majority Hispanic student population in Texas. College Forward leads to a 7.5 percentage point increase in enrollment in college, driven entirely by increased enrollment at four-year universities. Students who receive College Forward advising are nearly 12 percentage points more likely to persist to their third year of college. While more costly and harder to scale than low-touch interventions, back of the envelope calculations suggest that the benefit from increased college graduation likely induced by the program outweighs operating costs in less than two years following college completion.
In order for school choice reforms to fulfill their potential, school choosers must be informed about their options. We conducted a randomized controlled trial during the school choice application period in New Orleans to assess the effects of providing information to parents. Families with children entering pre-K, kindergarten, or ninth grade were assigned to one of two treatment groups or a control group. A “performance” group received lists of the highest-performing schools or programs available (via U.S. mail, email, and text message). A “neighborhood” group received lists of the schools or programs in their home geographic zone. We find that the performance treatment made applicants significantly more likely to request high-performing schools, though the effects were concentrated among high school choosers. The performance treatment had especially strong effects among families of students with disabilities. The neighborhood treatment had only modest effects. We consider these findings in the context of questions about the role of information in school choice markets, as well as which families may be in particular need of support.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill allows service members to transfer generous education benefits to a dependent. We run a large scale experiment that encourages service members to consider the transfer option among a population that includes individuals for whom the transfer benefits are clear and individuals for whom the net-benefits are significantly more ambiguous. We find no impact of a one-time email about benefits transfer among service members for whom we predict considerable ambiguity in the action, but sizeable impacts among service members for whom education benefits transfer is far less ambiguous. Our work contributes to the nascent literature investigating conditions when low-touch nudges at scale may be effective. JEL Classification: D15, D91, H52, I24
This paper estimates the relationship between students’ psychosocial and academic outcomes during their first three years enrolled at public, four-year institutions. Our sample is comprised of students from low-income backgrounds who applied for a competitive scholarship and enrolled at a four-year public institution. We follow two cohorts of entering students throughout their first three years on campus. We observe their cumulative GPA and persistence decisions each semester, and have annual measures of four psychosocial outcomes: mattering to campus, sense of belonging to campus, academic self-efficacy, and social self-efficacy. We find that psychosocial outcomes are moderately predictive of academic outcomes, with sense of belonging and academic self-efficacy emerging as most predictive of both cumulative GPA and persistence.
We examine the impact of the Thompson Scholars Learning Community (TSLC), a comprehensive college transition program serving students with a variety of majors, on students’ science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)-related outcomes. We use an explanatory mixed-methods design, which prioritizes the quantitative analyses and uses qualitative analyses to contextualize and explain our quantitative findings. Overall, participating in TSLC does not make students more likely to declare a STEM major, although we do find a positive effect for students of color. TSLC students earn higher overall GPAs than their scholarship-only peers, and TSLC students majoring in STEM outperform scholarship-only STEM majors in STEM courses. Qualitative analyses suggest these results stem from the student-centered and proactive support the program provides students. Our results suggest that a disciplinarily-agnostic program can support student success in STEM, and may increase equitable representation in STEM fields.