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Post-secondary education

Oded Gurantz, Ryan Sakoda, Shayak Sarkar.

This paper examines how financial aid reform based on postsecondary institutional performance impacts student choice. Federal and state regulations often reflect concerns about the private, for-profit sector's poor employment outcomes and high loan defaults, despite the sector's possible theoretical advantages. We use student level data to examine how eliminating public subsidies to attend low-performing for-profit institutions impacts students' college enrollment and completion behavior. Beginning in 2011, California tightened eligibility standards for their state aid program, effectively eliminating most for-profit eligibility. Linking data on aid application to administrative payment and postsecondary enrollment records, this paper utilizes a differences-in-differences strategy to investigate students' enrollment and degree completion responses to changes in subsidies. We find that restricting the use of the Cal Grant at for-profit institutions resulted in significant state savings but led to relatively small changes in students' postsecondary trajectories. For older, non-traditional students we find no impact on enrollment or degree completion outcomes. Similarly, for high school graduates, we find that for-profit enrollment remains strong. Unlike the older, non-traditional students, however, there is some evidence of declines in for-profit degree completion and increased enrollment at community colleges among the high school graduates, but these results are fairly small and sensitive to empirical specification. Overall, our results suggest that both traditional and non-traditional students have relatively inelastic preferences for for-profit colleges under aid-restricting policies.

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Kelli A. Bird, Benjamin L. Castleman, Zachary Mabel, Yifeng Song.

Colleges have increasingly turned to predictive analytics to target at-risk students for additional support. Most of the predictive analytic applications in higher education are proprietary, with private companies offering little transparency about their underlying models. We address this lack of transparency by systematically comparing two important dimensions: (1) different approaches to sample and variable construction and how these affect model accuracy; and (2) how the selection of predictive modeling approaches, ranging from methods many institutional researchers would be familiar with to more complex machine learning methods, impacts model performance and the stability of predicted scores. The relative ranking of students’ predicted probability of completing college varies substantially across modeling approaches. While we observe substantial gains in performance from models trained on a sample structured to represent the typical enrollment spells of students and with a robust set of predictors, we observe similar performance between the simplest and most complex models.

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Matthew D. Baird, John Engberg, Isaac M. Opper.

We consider the case in which the number of seats in a program is limited, such as a job training program or a supplemental tutoring program, and explore the implications that peer effects have for which individuals should be assigned to the limited seats. In the frequently-studied case in which all applicants are assigned to a group, the average outcome is not changed by shuffling the group assignments if the peer effect is linear in the average composition of peers. However, when there are fewer seats than applicants, the presence of linear-in-means peer effects can dramatically influence the optimal choice of who gets to participate. We illustrate how peer effects impact optimal seat assignment, both under a general social welfare function and under two commonly used social welfare functions. We next use data from a recent job training RCT to provide the first evidence of large peer effects in the context of job training for disadvantaged adults. Finally, we combine the two results to show that the program's effectiveness varies greatly depending on whether the assignment choices account for or ignore peer effects.

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Michael Bloem, Weixiang Pan, Jonathan Smith.

Using administrative data from Georgia, we provide the first study of the full set of college entrance exam-taking strategies, including who takes the ACT and the SAT (or both), when they take the exams, and how many times they take each exam. We have several main findings. First, one-third of exam takers take both the ACT and SAT. Second, we see pronounced disparities in several measures of exam-taking strategy by free- and reduced-price lunch status, even after including a rich set of controls, but not by underrepresented minority status. Third, we find evidence that taking more total exams leads to higher admissions-relevant test scores and a higher likelihood of enrolling in colleges with relatively high graduation rates and earnings. However, these relationships with test scores and college enrollment are smaller for those who take both the ACT and SAT, as opposed to retaking the same exam multiple times.

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Peter Q. Blair, Papia Debroy, Justin Heck.

Over the past four decades, income inequality grew significantly between workers with bachelor’s degrees and those with high school diplomas (often called “unskilled”). Rather than being unskilled, we argue that these workers are STARs because they are skilled through alternative routes—namely their work experience. Using the skill requirements of a worker’s current job as a proxy of their actual skill, we find that though both groups of workers make transitions to occupations requiring similar skills to their previous occupations, workers with bachelor’s degrees have dramatically better access to higher wage occupations where the skill requirements exceed the workers’ observed skill. This measured opportunity gap offers a fresh explanation of income inequality by degree status and reestablishes the important role of on-the-job-training in human capital formation.

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Christian Fischer, Rachel Baker, Qiujie Li, Gabe Avakian Orona, Mark Warschauer.

Online courses provide flexible learning opportunities, but research suggests that students may learn less and persist at lower rates compared to face-to-face settings. However, few research studies have investigated more distal effects of online education. In this study we analyzed six years of institutional data for three cohorts of students in thirteen large majors (N=10,572) at a public research university to examine distal effects of students’ online course participation. Using online course offering as an instrumental variable for online course taking, we find that online course taking of major-required courses leads to higher likelihood of successful four-year graduation and slightly accelerated time-to-degree. These results suggest that offering online course-taking opportunities may help students to more efficiently graduate college.

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Christa Deneault.

Barriers to accessing financial aid may keep students from matriculating to college. To test whether FAFSA completion is one of these barriers, I utilize a natural experiment brought about by a Louisiana mandate for seniors to file the FAFSA upon graduation from high school. Exploiting pre-treatment FAFSA completion rates as a treatment intensity in a dosage differences-in-differences specification, I find that a 10 percentage point lower pre-treatment FAFSA completion rate for a school implies a 1 percentage point larger increase in post-mandate college enrollment.

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Daniel Kreisman, Jonathan Smith, Bondi Arifin.

How do college non-completers list schooling on their resumes? The negative signal of not completing might outweigh the positive signal of attending but not persisting. If so, job-seekers might hide non-completed schooling on their resumes. To test this we match resumes from an online jobs board to administrative educational records. We find that fully one in three job-seekers who attended college but did not earn a degree omit their only post-secondary schooling from their resumes. We further show that these are not casual omissions but are strategic decisions systematically related to schooling characteristics, such as selectivity and years of enrollment. We also find evidence of lying, and show which degrees listed on resumes are most likely untrue. Lastly, we discuss implications. We show not only that this implies a commonly held assumption, that employers perfectly observe schooling, does not hold, but also that we can learn about which college experiences students believe are most valued by employers.

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Riley Acton.

In the competitive U.S. higher education market, institutions differentiate themselves to attract both students and tuition dollars. One understudied example of this differentiation is the increasing trend of "colleges" becoming "universities" by changing their names. Leveraging variation in the timing of such conversions in an event study framework, I show that becoming a university increases enrollments at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, which leads to an increase in degree production and total revenues. I further find that these effects are largest when institutions are the first in their market to convert to a university and can lead to negative spillover effects on non-converting colleges.

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Mingyu Chen.

Between 2005 and 2016, international enrollment in US higher education nearly doubled. I examine how trade shocks in education affect public universities' decision-making. I construct a shift-share instrument to exploit institutions' historical networks with different origins of international students, income growth, and exchange-rate fluctuations. Contrary to claims that US-born students are crowded out, I find that international students increase schools' funding via tuition payments, which leads to increased in-state enrollment and lower tuition prices. Schools also keep steady per-student spending and recruit more students with high math scores. Lastly, states allocate more appropriations to universities that attract fewer international students.

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