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Access and admissions
The quality of college education is hard for students and employers to observe. Knowing this, colleges often change their names to signal higher quality while leaving other features unchanged. We study how these changes affect college choice and labor market performance of college graduates. Using administrative data, we show that name-changing colleges attract more qualified applicants, with larger effects among applicants who have less information about the college. Text from web discussion boards reveals many college applicants lack important information about colleges. A resume audit study shows employers possess nearly perfect information about how college name changes affect student aptitude.
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, first under a general social planner utility function and then from both an efficiency and an equity perspective. 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.
The transfer between two-year and four-year colleges is a critical path to baccalaureate attainment. Yet, students face a number of barriers in transfer pathways, including a lack of coherent coordination and articulation between their community colleges and four-year institutions, resulting in excess units and increased time to degree. In this paper we evaluate the impact of California’s Student Transfer Achievement Reform Act, which aimed to create a more seamless pathway between the Community Colleges and the California State University. We investigate whether the reform effort met its intended goal of improving baccalaureate receipt, and greater efficiency in earning these degrees, among community college transfer students. We tease out plausibly causal effects of the policy by leveraging the exogenous variation in the timing of the implementation of the reform in different campuses and fields of study. We find that this reform effort has led to significant reductions in time to baccalaureate receipt among community college transfers and reduced total unit accumulation. These positive effects were shared across all student subgroups.
I study how postsecondary admission policies affect the composition and subsequent academic outcomes of new cohorts. I leverage the staggered replacement of lotteries and waitlists at California's community college nursing programs with admissions that rely on grades, work experience, and other measures. The change in admissions increased the average prior academic performance of incoming cohorts, but did not improve academic outcomes such as completion rates or pass rates on the national licensing exam. I find suggestive evidence that the change in admissions decreased the share of new students who were not White, but by small amounts. The change in admissions also substantially reduced the time students spent waiting between taking prerequisite coursework and entering the nursing programs.
The Top 10% Plan admissions policy has now been in place in Texas for over two decades. We analyze 18 years of post-Top 10% Plan data to look for evidence of increased access to the selective Texas flagship campuses among all Texas high schools. We provide a detailed description of changes in enrollment patterns at the flagship campuses from Texas high schools after the implementation of the Top 10% Plan, focusing on whether the policy resulted in new sending patterns from high schools that did not have a history of sending students to the flagship campuses. Our analysis reveals an increase in the likelihood that high schools in non-suburban areas sent students to the flagship campuses, but ultimately little to no equity-producing effects of the Top 10% Plan over this 18-year period. In fact, the representation of traditional, always-sending, feeder high schools on the flagship campuses continued to dwarf the population of students from other high schools. Thus, the purported high school representation benefits of the policy appear to be overstated and may not go as far as advocates might have hoped in terms of generating equity of access to the flagship campuses in the state.
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.