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We examine all known "credibly causal" studies to explore the distribution of the causal effects of public K-12 school spending on student outcomes in the United States. For each of the 31 included studies, we compute the same marginal spending effect parameter estimate. Precision-weighted method of moments estimates indicate that, on average, a $1000 increase in per-pupil public school spending (for four years) increases test scores by 0.0352 standard deviations, high school graduation by 1.92 percentage points, and college-going by 2.65 percentage points. These pooled averages are significant at the 0.0001 level. When benchmarked against other interventions, test score impacts are smaller than those on educational attainment -- suggesting that test-score impacts understate the value of school spending.
The benefits to marginal capital spending increases take about five years to materialize, and are about half as large as (and less consistently positive than) those of non-capital-specific spending increases. The marginal spending impacts for all spending types are less pronounced for economically advantaged populations -- though not statistically significantly so. Consistent with a cumulative effect, the educational attainment impacts are larger with more years of exposure to the spending increase. Average impacts are similar across a wide range of baseline spending levels and geographic characteristics -- providing little evidence of diminishing marginal returns at current spending levels.
To assuage concerns that pooled averages aggregate selection or confounding biases across studies, we use a meta-regression-based method that tests for, and removes, certain biases in the reported effects. This approach is straightforward and can remove biases in meta-analyses where the parameter of interest is a ratio, slope, or elasticity. We fail to reject that the meta-analytic averages are unbiased. Moreover, policies that generate larger increases in per-pupil spending tend to generate larger improvements in outcomes, in line with the pooled average.
To speak to generalizability, we estimate the variability across studies attributable to effect heterogeneity (as opposed to sampling variability). This heterogeneity explains between 76 and 88 percent of the variation across studies. Estimates of heterogeneity allow us to provide a range of likely policy impacts. Our estimates suggest that a policy that increases per-pupil spending for four years will improve test scores and/or educational attainment over 90 percent of the time. We find evidence of small possible publication bias among very imprecise studies, but show that any effects on our precision-weighted estimates are minimal.
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.
Sixty-seven school finance reforms (SFRs), a combination of court-ordered and legislative reforms, have taken place since 1990; however, there is little empirical evidence on the heterogeneity of SFR effects. In this study, we estimate the effects of SFRs on revenues and expenditures between 1990 and 2014 for 26 states. We find that, on average, per pupil spending increased, especially in low-income districts relative to high-income districts. However, underlying these average effect estimates, the distribution of state-level effect sizes ranges from negative to positive---there is substantial heterogeneity. When predicting SFR impacts, we find that multiple state-level SFRs, union strength, and some funding formula components are positively associated with SFR effect sizes in low-income districts. We also show that, on average, states without SFRs adopted funding formula components and increased K-12 state revenues similarly to states with SFRs.
Education savings accounts (ESAs) are education funding mechanisms that allow for families to receive a deposit of public funds to a government-authorized savings account. Using student-level longitudinal data, this paper examines how families participating in the Florida Gardiner Scholarship Program use education savings account funds. Results indicate that families use an increasing proportion of ESA funds the longer students remain in the program. The longer students remain in the program, the share of ESA funds devoted to private school tuition decreases while expenditure shares increase for curriculum, instruction, tutoring, and specialized services. Students in rural areas not only use a greater portion of their ESA funds than families in urban and suburban areas, but they also spend smaller portions of their funds on tuition and appear to customize more.
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.
The ongoing crisis in teacher pension funding has led states to consider various reforms in plan design, to replace the traditional benefit formulas, based on years of service and final average salary (FAS). One such design is a cash balance (CB) plan, long deployed in the private sector, and increasingly considered, but rarely yet adopted for teachers. Such plans are structured with individual 401(k)-type retirement accounts, but with guaranteed returns. In this paper I examine how the nation’s first CB plan for teachers, in Kansas, has played out for system costs, and the level and distribution of individual benefits, compared to the FAS plan it replaced. My key findings are: (1) employer-funded benefits were modestly reduced, despite the surface appearance of more generous employer contribution matches; (2) more importantly, the cost of the pension guarantee, which is off-the-books under standard actuarial accounting, was reduced quite substantially. In addition, benefits are more equitably distributed between short termers and career teachers than under the back-loaded structure of benefits characteristic of FAS plans. The key to the plan’s cost reduction is that the guaranteed return approximates a low-risk market return, considerably lower than the assumed return on risky assets.
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.
We provide theory and evidence about how the design of college financial aid programs affects a variety of high school, college, and life outcomes. The evidence comes from an eight-year randomized trial where 2,587 high school ninth graders received a $12,000 merit-based grant offer. During high school, the program increased their college expectations and non-merit effort but had no effect on merit-related effort (e.g., GPA). After high school, the program increased graduation from two-year colleges only, apparently because of the free college design/framing in only that sector. But we see no effects on incarceration or teen pregnancy. Overall, the results suggest that free college affects student outcomes in ways similar to what advocates of free college suggest and making aid commitments early, well before college starts, increases some forms of high school effort. But we see no evidence that merit requirements are effective. Both the standard human capital model and behavioral economics are required to explain these results.
Many state governments impose tuition regulations on universities in pursuit of college affordability. How effective are these regulations? We study how universities' "sticker price'' and institutional financial aid change during and after tuition caps and freezes by leveraging temporal and geographic variation in the United States from 1990 to 2013. We find that listed tuition is lower than it would have been in the absence of the regulation by 6.3 (9.3) percentage points at four-year (two-year) colleges during the regulation. Meanwhile, the negative impact on institutional aid at four-year colleges during a tuition cap/freeze is nearly double (-11.3 percentage points) the impact on listed tuition, implying that universities adjust institutional aid in order to recoup some of their losses from the tuition cap/freeze. Effects are long-lasting at four-year institutions; two years after the regulation is lifted, tuition is 7.3 percentage points lower and institutional aid is 19.5 percentage points lower than it would have been without the regulation. Meanwhile at two-year colleges, tuition "catches up" so that by three years after the end of the regulation tuition is not statistically different from what it would have been in the absence of the regulation. Universities that are not research-intensive and universities that have a greater dependency on tuition revenue exhibit larger negative impacts on institutional aid with smaller impacts on "sticker price''. Our estimates suggest that tuition caps and freezes do not simply lower the prices that students pay for college and that the benefit of tuition regulations is unequally spread across types of universities and students.
Enrollment increased slightly at both the California State University and University of California systems in fall 2020, but the effects of the pandemic on enrollment in the California Community College system are mostly unknown and might differ substantially from the effects on 4-year colleges. This paper provides the first analysis of how the pandemic impacted enrollment patterns and the academic outcomes of community college students using administrative college-level panel data covering the universe of students in the 116-college California Community College system. We find that community college enrolment dropped precipitously in fall 2020 – the total number of enrolled students fell by 4 percent in spring 2020 and by 15 percent in fall 2020 relative to the prior year. All racial and ethnic groups experienced large enrollment decreases in spring and fall 2020, but African-American and Latinx students experienced the largest drops at 17 percent in fall 2020. Enrollment fell the most for first-year students in the community college system, basic skills courses, and fields such as engineering/industrial technology, education, interdisciplinary studies, and art. There were smaller decreases for continuing students, academic courses transferable to four-year institutions, and business and science fields. Enrollment losses were felt throughout the entire community college system, and there is no evidence that having a large online presence in prior years protected colleges from these effects. In terms of course performance, there was a larger disruption to completion rates, withdrawal rates, and grades in spring 2020 than in fall 2020. These early findings of the effects of the pandemic at community colleges, which serve higher percentages of lower-income and minority students, have implications for policy, impending budgetary pressures, and future research.