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Post-secondary education

Harry J. Holzer, Zeyu Xu.

In this paper we estimate the impacts of the “pathways” chosen by community college students—in terms of desired credentials and fields of study, as well as other choices and outcomes along the paths—on the attainment of credentials with labor market value. We focus on the extent to which there are recorded changes in students’ choices over time, whether students make choices informed by their chances of success and by labor market value of credentials, and the impacts of choices on outcomes. We find that several characteristics of chosen pathways, such as field of study and desired credential as well as early “momentum,” affect outcomes. Student choices of pathways are not always driven by information about later chances of success, in terms of probabilities of completing programs and attaining strong earnings. Students also change pathways quite frequently, making it harder to accumulate the credits needed in their fields. Attainment of credentials with greater market value could thus likely be improved by appropriate guidance and supports for students along the way, and perhaps by broader institutional changes as well.

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Jeffrey T. Denning, Todd R. Jones.

Despite large and growing student loan balances, there is relatively little evidence on the effects of access to student loans on borrowing and educational outcomes. We examine the effect of access to credit by using policy variation in the maximum federal student loan amounts available to U.S. college students. In particular, first-, second-, and third-year students have access to different amounts of federal student loans. Using a regression discontinuity and administrative data from a state higher education system, we find that access to higher loan limits increases borrowing for at least 26 percent of borrowers. Despite this increase in borrowing, we find no evidence that eligibility for additional loans affects student GPA, persistence, or graduation.

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Andrew C. Barr, Kelli A. Bird, Benjamin L. Castleman, William Skimmyhorn.

Despite broad public interest in Veterans' education, there is relatively little evidence documenting the postsecondary trajectories of military service members after they return to civilian life. In the current report we investigate how U.S. Army service member college enrollment and progression trends compare to a similar population of civilians, using Army administrative personnel data merged with administrative records from the National Student Clearinghouse and the Educational Longitudinal Study (ELS) of 2002. Civilians were nearly three times as likely to enroll in college within one year of high school graduation (or one year of separation). Civilians were also much more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree within the period of study than either of the Army samples. While members of minority race/ethnicity groups in both military samples enroll at higher rates than their white counterparts, racial/ethnic minorities do not graduate at higher rates than their white counterparts. We discuss policy implications of our analyses in the final section of our paper.

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Oded Gurantz, Jessica Howell, Mike Hurwitz, Cassandra Larson, Matea Pender, Brooke White.

The College Board sought to reduce barriers in the college application process by minimizing information aggregation costs, encouraging a broad application portfolio, and providing an impetus to start the search process. Some students were offered additional encouragements, such as text message reminders or college application fee waivers. In a randomized control trial with 785,000 low- and middle-income students in the top 50% of the PSAT and SAT distributions, we find no changes in college enrollment patterns, with the exception of a 0.02σ increase in college quality measures for African-American and Hispanic students.

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Christina Ciocca Eller.

The rise of accountability standards has pressed higher education organizations to oversee the production and publication of data on student outcomes more closely than in the past. However, the most common measure of student outcomes, average bachelor's degree completion rates, potentially provides little information about the direct impacts of colleges and universities on student success. Extending scholarship in the new institutionalist tradition, I hypothesize that higher education organizations today exist as, “superficially coupled systems,” where colleges closely oversee their technical outputs but where those technical outputs provide limited insight into the direct role of colleges and universities in producing them. I test this hypothesis using administrative data from the largest, public, urban university system in the United States together with fixed effects regression and entropy balancing techniques, allowing me to isolate organizational effects. My results provide evidence for superficial coupling, suggesting that inequality in college effectiveness exists both between colleges and within colleges, given students' racial background and family income. They also indicate that institutionalized norms surrounding accountability have backfired, enabling higher education organizations, and other bureaucratic organizations like them, to maintain legitimacy without identifying and addressing inequality.

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Joshua Hyman.

I conduct a statewide experiment in Michigan with nearly 50,000 high-achieving high school seniors. Treated students are mailed a letter encouraging them to consider college and providing them with the web address of a college information website. I find that very high-achieving, low-income students, and very high-achieving, minority students are the most likely to navigate to the website. Small changes to letter content affect take-up. For example, highlighting college affordability induces 18 percent more students to the website than highlighting college choice, and 37 percent more than highlighting how to apply to college. I find a statistically precise zero impact on college enrollment among all students mailed the letter. However, low-income students experience a small increase in the probability that they enroll in college, driven by increases at four-year institutions. An examination of persistence through college, while imprecise, suggests that the students induced into college by the intervention persist at a lower rate than the inframarginal student.

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Joshua Goodman, Oded Gurantz, Jonathan Smith.

Only half of SAT-takers retake the exam, with even lower retake rates among low income and underrepresented minority (URM) students. We exploit discontinuous jumps in retake probabilities at multiples of 100, driven by left-digit bias, to estimate retaking’s causal effects. Retaking substantially improves SAT scores and increases four-year college enrollment rates, particularly for low income and URM students. Eliminating disparities in retake rates could close up to 10 percent of the income-based gap and up to seven percent of the race-based gap in four-year college enrollment rates of high school graduates.

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Katherine A Key, Tim R. Sass.

We investigate the determinants of high school completion and college attendance, the likelihood of taking science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) courses in the first year of college and the probability of earning a degree in a STEM field.  The focus is on women, who tend to be under-represented in STEM fields.  Tracking four cohorts of students throughout Florida, women perform nearly as well as men on math achievement tests through high school and are more likely to finish high school and attend college than males.  Among college students, however, women are less likely than are men to take courses in the physical sciences in their first year and are less likely to earn a degree in physics or engineering, even after adjusting for pre-college test scores.  Gender matching of students and math/science teachers in middle and high school tends to increase the likelihood that female college freshman will take at least one STEM course.  However, conditional on first-year coursework, neither gender matching at the secondary or college levels appears to have any effect on the likelihood of completing a major in a STEM field.  For all students, having high school math and physics teachers with a degree in math or physics, respectively, (as opposed to education) is associated with a higher likelihood of taking STEM courses as college freshmen. 

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Kathleen Lynch, Heather C. Hill, Kathryn Gonzalez, Cynthia Pollard.

We present results from a meta-analysis of 95 experimental and quasi-experimental preK-12 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professional development and curriculum programs, seeking to understand what content, activities and formats relate to stronger student outcomes. Across rigorously conducted studies, we found an average weighted impact estimate of +0.21 standard deviations. Programs saw stronger outcomes when they helped teachers learn to use curriculum materials; focused on improving teachers' content knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge and/or understanding of how students learn; incorporated summer workshops; and included teacher meetings to troubleshoot and discuss classroom implementation. We discuss implications for policy and practice.

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