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Post-secondary education

Danielle Lowry, Lindsay C. Page, Jennifer Iriti.

Award displacement occurs when one type of financial aid award directly contributes to the change in quantity of another award. We explore whether postsecondary institutions displaced awards in response to the Pittsburgh Promise scholarship by capitalizing on the doubling of the maximum Promise amount in 2012. We use de-identified student-level data on each Promise recipient’s actual cost of attendance, grants, and scholarships, as well as demographic and academic characteristics from school district administrative files to examine whether and how components of students’ financial aid packages and total costs of attendance changed after the Promise award increase. To account for overall trends in pricing and financial aid, we compare Promise recipients to the average first-time, full-time freshman entering the same institutions in the same year as reported by the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). With these two data sources, we assess differences in costs and awards between Promise students and their peers, on average, and examine whether and in what ways these differences changed after the increase in Promise funding. We refer to this strategy as a “quasi-difference-in-differences” design. We do not find evidence that institutions are responding to the Promise increase through aid reductions.

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Lucas Husted, Isaac M. Opper, R. Jisung Park.

We show that natural disasters affect a region’s aggregate human capital through at least four channels. In addition to causing out-migration, natural disasters reduce student achievement, lower high school graduation rates, and decrease post-secondary attendance. We estimate that disasters that cause at least $500 in per capita property damage reduce the net present value (NPV) of an affected county’s human capital by an average of $505 per person. These negative effects on human capital are not restricted to large disasters: less severe events – disasters with property damages of $100-$500 per capita – also cause significant and persistent reductions in student achievement and post-secondary attendance.

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Shamena Anwar, Matthew Baird, John Engberg, Rosanna Smart.

The primary goal of job training programs is to improve employment and earning outcomes of participants. However, effective job training programs may have potential secondary benefits, including in the form of reduced arrests. In this paper, we evaluate the impact of a job training program in New Orleans that was implemented using a randomized controlled trial design. We find that among those who had a prior criminal record, those assigned to the treatment group were two-fifths as likely to get arrested as those assigned to the control group at any time point after randomization. We explore several potential mechanisms for why this effect occurs and find suggestive evidence that the training program’s impact on wages, as well as peer effects from other trainees, can partially explain this effect.

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

Non-traditional students disproportionately enroll in institutions with weaker graduation and earnings outcomes. One hypothesis is that these students would have made different choices had they been provided with better information or supports during the decision-making process. We conducted a large-scale, multi-arm field experiment with the U.S. Army to investigate whether personalized information and the offer of advising assistance affect postsecondary choices and attainment among non-traditional adult populations. We provided U.S. Army service members transitioning out of the military with a package of research-based information and prompts, including quality and cost information on a personalized set of matched colleges, messages targeted at addressing veteran-specific concerns or needs, and reminders about key stages in the college and financial aid application process. For a randomly selected subset of the experimental sample, we also provided service members with opportunities to connect with a college advisor. We find no overall impact of the intervention on whether service members enroll in college, on the quality of their college enrollment, or on their persistence in college. We find suggestive evidence of a modest increase in degree completion within the period of observation, with these impacts mainly driven by increased attainment at for-profit institutions. Our results suggest that influencing non-traditional populations’ educational decisions and outcomes will require substantially more intensive programs and significant resources.

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Kelli A. Bird, Benjamin L. Castleman, Gabrielle Lohner.

The COVID-19 pandemic led to an abrupt shift from in-person to virtual instruction in Spring 2020. We use two complementary difference-in differences frameworks, one that leverages within-instructor-by-course variation on whether students started their Spring 2020 courses in person or online and another that incorporates student fixed effects. We estimate the impact of this shift on the academic performance of Virginia’s community college students. With both approaches, we find modest negative impacts (three to six percent) on course completion. Our results suggest that faculty experience teaching a given course online does not mitigate the negative effects. In an exploratory analysis, we find minimal long-term impacts of the switch to online instruction.

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Serena Canaan, Pierre Mouganie, Peng Zhang.

Despite the prevalence of school tracking, evidence on whether it improves student success is mixed. This paper studies how tracking within high school impacts high-achieving students’ short- and longer-term academic outcomes. Our setting is a large and selective Chinese high school, where first-year students are separated into high-achieving and regular classrooms based on their performance on a standardized exam. Classrooms differ in terms of peer ability, teacher quality, class size, as well as level and pace of instruction. Using newly collected administrative data and a regression discontinuity design, we show that high-achieving classrooms improve math test scores by 23 percent of a standard deviation, with effects persisting throughout the three years of high school. Effects on performance in Chinese and English language subjects are more muted. Importantly, we find that high-achieving classrooms substantially raise enrollment in elite universities, as they increase scores on the national college entrance exam—the sole determinant of university admission in China.

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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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Soobin Kim, John Yun, Barbara Schneider, Michael Broda, Christopher Klager, I-Chien Chen.

We study the long-term effects of a psychological intervention on longitudinal academic outcomes and degree completion of college students. All freshmen at a large public university were randomized to an online growth mindset, belonging, or control group. We tracked students’ academic outcomes including GPA, number of credits attempted and earned, major choices, and degree completion. We found no evidence of longitudinal academic treatment effects in the full sample. However, the mindset treatment improved term GPAs for Latinx students and the probability for Pell-eligible and Latinx students to major in selective majors. We also found no evidence of increased rates of on-time graduation, however, the treatment raised the probability to graduate with selective majors in four years, especially for Latinx students.

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Kelli A. Bird, Benjamin L. Castleman, Brett Fischer, Benjamin T. Skinner.

Recent state policy efforts have focused on increasing attainment among adults with some college but no degree (SCND). Yet little is actually known about the SCND population. Using data from the Virginia Community College System (VCCS), we provide the first detailed profile on the academic, employment, and earnings trajectories of the SCND population, and how these compare to VCCS graduates. We show that the share of SCND students who are academically ready to reenroll and would benefit from doing so may be substantially lower than policy makers anticipate. Specifically, we estimate that few SCND students (approximately three percent) could fairly easily re-enroll in fields of study from which they could reasonably expect a sizable earnings premium from completing their degree.

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Todd R. Jones, Arielle Sloan.

We use roster data of 96 top U.S. economics departments to document the academic origins of their tenure-track faculty. Academic origins may have implications for how undergraduate (B.A.) and doctoral (Ph.D.) students are trained and placed, as well as the type of research produced. We find that faculty educated at top-ranked Ph.D. universities are overrepresented; e.g., over half of our sample attended a top 15 university, and over a third attended a top six university. We find similar, but less pronounced, patterns for B.A. origins; e.g., over a third of those with a U.S. B.A. attended a top 15 university.

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