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Benjamin L. Castleman, Denise Deutschlander, Gabrielle Lohner.

While Hispanic students represent the fasting-growing segment of the American school-age population, substantial gaps exist in college enrollment and Bachelor’s attainment between Hispanic and White and Asian students. Numerous factors contribute to these disparities and disproportionally affect Hispanic youth. In this paper, we contribute evidence on the impact of an intensive college advising program on Hispanic students’ college participation and degree attainment. We report on a multi-cohort randomized controlled trial of College Forward, which provides individualized advising from junior year of high school through college for a majority Hispanic, lower-income student population in Texas. Students who receive College Forward advising are 7.1 percentage points more likely to earn a Bachelor’s degree within 5 years of high school graduation; this effect appears largely driven by shifting high school graduates from the extensive margin of not going to college at all to instead enroll at four-year colleges and universities. Despite the costs associated with intensive advising programs like College Forward, back of the envelope calculations suggest that the benefit from increased college graduation induced by the program outweighs operating costs in less than three years following college completion.

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Kelli A. Bird, Benjamin L. Castleman.

Recent work highlights the challenge of scaling evidence-based educational programs. We report on a randomized controlled trial of a financial incentive program designed to increase the efficacy of a national remote college advising initiative for high-achieving students. We find substantial positive effects of the program on student engagement with college advisors; applications to well-matched colleges and universities; and review of financial aid awards. Yet treated students were no more likely to enroll at higher-quality institutions. Student survey responses suggest that institutional admissions and affordability barriers, alongside student preferences to attend institutions closer to home, explain the lack of enrollment effects.

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Sophie McGuinness.

Short-term certificate (STC) programs at community colleges represent a longstanding policy priority to align accelerated postsecondary credentials with job opportunities in local labor markets. Despite large investments in developing STCs, little evidence exists about where and when STCs are opened, and whether community colleges open new programs of study in coordination with labor market trends. Using public workforce and postsecondary data, I examine health and manufacturing STC program openings to understand the conditions in which STCs are launched and whether the timing of program openings correspond with labor market activity in related industries. I find that STCs are spatially aligned across labor markets within a state, but not necessarily temporally aligned with county-specific trends. One additional STC per college is associated with labor markets that had 2-3% more employment and 4-6% greater share of employment in related industry.

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Rebecca J. Shmoys, Sierra G. McCormick, Douglas D. Ready.

Many school districts consider family preferences in allocating students to schools. In theory, this approach provides traditionally disadvantaged families greater access to high-quality schools by weakening the link between residential location and school assignment. We leverage data on the school choices made by over 233,000 New York City families to examine the extent to which the city’s school choice system fulfills this promise. We find that over-subscribed and high-quality schools enroll smaller proportions of students from traditionally disadvantaged families. We explore three mechanisms to explain this inequitable distribution: application timing, neighborhood stratification, and the architecture of the choice process itself. We find that all three mechanisms have a disequalizing influence and propose several policy shifts to address this inequality.

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Jordan S. Berne, Katia Cordoba Garcia, Brian A. Jacob, Tareena Musaddiq, Samuel Owusu, Anna Shapiro, Christina Weiland.

In recent years, several states have expanded a new publicly funded learning option: Transitional Kindergarten (TK). TK programs bridge prekindergarten and kindergarten in their eligibility, requirements, and design. We use Michigan’s TK program as a case study on the fit of this new entrant in the early learning landscape. Michigan’s program is well suited for this purpose because it contains most of the research-aligned program design elements of other large-scale TK programs across the country. Using statewide administrative data, we describe which districts offer TK when doing so is optional, the characteristics of children who enroll in TK at four and five years old, and substitution patterns between TK and alternative learning options. Broadly, we find TK in Michigan closes some socioeconomic gaps in early program enrollment while exacerbating others. Specifically, districts with larger proportions of White students and smaller proportions of economically disadvantaged students are more likely to offer TK than other districts. Within districts that do not offer TK in every school, TK is targeted to schools with more economically disadvantaged students. Among preschool-age children, those from non-economically disadvantaged families are more likely to enroll in TK than their peers; among kindergarten-age children, there is little difference in take-up by family income. Finally, we find evidence of substitution, with some children enrolling in TK instead of state-funded prekindergarten or instead of enrolling in kindergarten early, though with no evidence that public slots decline overall. Our findings have implications for addressing the fragmented early education landscape when expanding programs.

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Daniel Klasik, William Zahran, Rachel Worsham, Matthew G. Springer.

The North Carolina Promise is a state-level policy that reduced the cost of tuition for all students who attended one of three campuses in the University of North Carolina System starting in fall of 2018. We use IPEDS data and a synthetic control approach to examine how this tuition reduction affected enrollment and persistence at these campuses. We find that NC Promise did not increase enrollment among first-year students. However, it attracted more transfer students and increased enrollment by Hispanic students at one of the institutions. Retention rates at the three universities remained constant. We discuss implications for similar policies aimed at changing the “sticker price” at public, four-year colleges. 

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Blake Heller.

In 2016, the GED® introduced college readiness benchmarks designed to identify testers who are academically prepared for credit-bearing college coursework. The benchmarks are promoted as awarding college credits or exempting “college-ready” GED® graduates from remedial coursework. I show descriptive evidence that those identified as college-ready by these benchmarks enroll and persist in college at significantly higher rates than others who pass the GED® exam, but at lower rates than recent graduates with traditional high school diplomas. Regression discontinuity estimates show that crossing a college readiness threshold does not substantially influence testers' college enrollment or persistence during the two years following their first test attempt. Relatedly, I observe little exam retaking by those who fall narrowly short of the minimum college readiness score thresholds. This contrasts strongly with retaking behavior near the lower GED® passing threshold that determines eligibility for a high school equivalency credential. Those who narrowly fail a GED® subject test are over 100 times more likely to retest than those who fall just short of a college readiness benchmark in the same subject. GED® college readiness benchmarks do not currently appear to promote better college outcomes, but in the absence of more detailed test score information they offer a simple heuristic to predict short-run college enrollment and persistence among GED® graduates, particularly for those who identify educational gain as a primary reason for testing. The results highlight the promise and challenges associated with building pathways for non-traditional students to earn credit for prior learning.

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S. Michael Gaddis, Charles Crabtree, John B. Holbein, Steven Pfaff.

Although numerous studies document different forms of discrimination in the U.S. public education system, very few provide plausibly causal estimates. Thus, it is unclear to what extent public school principals discriminate against racial and ethnic minorities. Moreover, no studies test for heterogeneity in racial/ethnic discrimination by individual-level resource needs and school-level resource strain – potentially important moderators in the education context. Using a correspondence audit, we examine bias against Black, Hispanic, and Chinese American families in interactions with 52,792 public K-12 principals in 33 states. Our research provides causal evidence that Hispanic and Chinese American families face significant discrimination in initial interactions with principals, regardless of individual-level resource needs. Black families, however, only face discrimination when they have high resource needs. Additionally, principals in schools with greater resource strain discriminate more against Chinese American families. This research uncovers complexities of racial/ethnic discrimination in the K-12 context because we examine multiple racial/ethnic groups and test for heterogeneity across individual- and school-level variables. These findings highlight the need for researchers conducting future correspondence audits to expand the scope of their research to provide a more comprehensive analysis of racial/ethnic discrimination in the U.S.

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Ashley Edwards, Justin C. Ortagus, Jonathan Smith, Andria Smythe.

Using data from nearly 1.2 million Black SAT takers, we estimate the impacts of initially enrolling in an Historically Black College and University (HBCU) on educational, economic, and financial outcomes. We control for the college application portfolio and compare students with similar portfolios and levels of interest in HBCUs and non-HBCUs who ultimately make divergent enrollment decisions - often enrolling in a four-year HBCU in lieu of a two-year college or no college. We find that students initially enrolling in HBCUs are 14.6 percentage points more likely to earn a BA degree and have 5 percent higher household income around age 30 than those who do not enroll in an HBCU. Initially enrolling in an HBCU also leads to $12,000 more in outstanding student loans around age 30. We find that some of these results are driven by an increased likelihood of completing a degree from relatively broad-access HBCUs and also relatively high-earning majors (e.g., STEM). We also explore new outcomes, such as credit scores, mortgages, bankruptcy, and neighborhood characteristics around age 30.

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Walter G. Ecton.

Career and Technical Education (CTE) has long played a substantial, though controversial, role within America’s public schools. While supporters argue that CTE may increase student engagement and prepare students for success in the workforce, detractors caution that CTE may inhibit students’ access to the rigorous academic coursework needed for college and high-status careers. As students’ time in high school is a relatively fixed resource, this paper seeks to better understand the extent to which CTE is associated with trade-offs within students’ high school curricula. Using a robust statewide longitudinal data system, this study explores the extent to which CTE may limit course taking in a wide range of subjects (including core academic subjects, electives, and Advanced Placement courses). Special attention is paid to how curricular trade-offs may occur differently among different student populations, keeping in mind the legacy of tracking as a long-employed mechanism for reducing opportunity. On average, results indicate that CTE courses do crowd out students’ enrollment in non-CTE elective areas, but that CTE does not lead to large declines in college preparatory coursetaking, though there are nuances for certain student populations. Overall, these findings counter longstanding narratives that CTE participation limits student access to college preparatory coursework.

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