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Taylor Odle, Lauren Russell.

There is substantial variation in the returns to a college degree. One determinant is whether a worker’s employment is “matched” with their education. With a novel education-industry crosswalk and panel data on 295,000 graduates, we provide the first estimates of an education-industry match premium leveraging within-person variation in earnings. We document which majors have the most and least matching, how earnings premia vary across fields and gender, and how premia evolve over time. With robust estimators, we show that workers in industries “matched” with their degree experience an average earnings premium of 7-11%, with variation by degree level and major.

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Bradley R. Curs, Casandra E. Harper, Sangmin Park.

This quasi-experimental study examined the effectiveness of a one-time emergency financial relief program among Pell Grant eligible undergraduate students in Spring 2015 pursuing their first bachelor’s degree across academic and financial outcomes. The academic outcomes included retention to the next semester, degree completion, attempted credit hours, and grade point average. The financial outcome captured whether students received a stop registration hold due to an unpaid financial balance in the semester after receiving the emergency relief. The results reveal that financial relief applied to low-income students’ accounts can improve their retention and graduation rates. The financial relief was most effective among first-generation college students, resulting in a complete elimination of the retention gap for first-generation students. The emergency relief did not improve GPA or substantially change the number of credits earned. A concerning finding was that students receiving this emergency support were more likely to receive a financial hold in a subsequent semester and that effect was stronger among students of color (Black/African American, Hispanic/Latine, Asian, Multiracial, American Indian/Alaska Native), males, and first-generation college students.

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David B. Monaghan.

“Free college” (sometimes called Promise) programs are common in U.S. higher education. Reviewing 88 studies of 25 state and local programs, I provide a nuanced picture of the mechanisms through which these programs may work and their likely effects on students, communities, and colleges. Some commonly-claimed mechanisms for these effects—e.g., improving secondary school environments or impacting residential decisions—lack empirical support or are implausible for most existing programs. Programs are consistently found to shift college-bound students to colleges where they can use more scholarship dollars, increase enrollment at eligible colleges, and (for generous local programs only) increase community school district enrollment. Less consistently, programs boost college participation and thereby degree attainment, but evidence for direct effects on college performance, persistence or completion net of enrollment is weak. There is insufficient or inconsistent evidence for program effects on secondary school performance and graduation, post-college income and debt, community population or property values, and inequality reduction according to gender, race, or socioeconomic status.

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Mark Duffy, Kri Burkander.

Drawing on qualitative data collected in a sample of colleges as part of a larger study on the implementation and impact of Assembly Bill 705 in California, this paper explores the rollout of corequisite reforms, focusing on the use of embedded tutors in introductory math and English courses as a strategy to meet to the needs of students. This paper highlights promising practices identified through extant research and fieldwork at study institutions, provides additional evidence on the value of the reform, discusses challenges, and makes recommendations for the field.

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David B. Monaghan, Crystal Almanzar, Madison Laughman, Allyson Ritchie.

Promise programs are discussed as a policy movement that began with the 2005 launch of the Kalamazoo Promise. Since then, programs bearing the Promise label or sharing similar features have spread across the higher educational landscape, appearing in most states and across postsecondary sectors. Simultaneously, scholarly literature discussing these programs has burgeoned. And yet, scholars and others are unable to formulate a clear conception of what a Promise program is and what if anything sets such a program apart from other scholarship programs (e.g., state need-based grants). In this paper, we examine how scholars have discussed these programs over time. We begin with the initial theorization of the Kalamazoo Promise as a case and observe its use as a prototype in the formulation of a general model once “Promise program” was established as a category. We follow how the spread and transformation of “Promise programs” was reflected in repeated partial reconceptualization. We find three competing conceptual models emerging in sequence: 1) a thick, place-based causal model derived as a generalization of the Kalamazoo Promise, 2) a thin empirical model crafted in the aftermath of the launch of the Tennessee Promise, and 3) a partially acknowledged minimal or symbolic model advanced haltingly in response to critiques of last-dollar community college state programs. Scholarly conceptualization is largely reactive to empirical program diffusion and transformation, though scholarly idealization may have played a role in this diffusion itself.

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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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Kelly Rosinger, Dominique J. Baker, Joseph Sturm, Wan Yu, Julie J. Park, OiYan Poon, Brian Heseung Kim, Stephanie Breen.

Most selective colleges implemented test-optional admissions during the pandemic, making college entrance exam scores optional for applicants. We draw on descriptive, two-way fixed effects, and event study methods to examine variation in test-optional implementation during the pandemic and how implementation relates to selectivity and enrollment. For “test-optional” colleges during the pandemic, we found substantial variation in policy type (e.g., test optional, test free) and whether the policy extended to all applicants and scholarship consideration. Findings suggest test-optional implementation related to increases in Black student enrollment, mostly at moderately selective colleges and when policies extended to all applicants and scholarships. At highly selective colleges, findings suggest test-optional implementation related to an increase in applications but not consistent gains in enrollment.

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Justin C. Ortagus, Hope Allchin, Benjamin Skinner, Melvin Tanner, Isaac McFarlin.

Most students who begin at a community college do not complete their desired credential. Many former students fail to graduate due to various barriers rather than their academic performance. To encourage previously successful non-completers to re-enroll and eventually graduate, a growing number of community colleges have implemented re-enrollment campaigns focused on former students who have already made substantial progress toward graduation. In this study, we randomly assigned over 27,000 former community college students to a control group, “information-only” treatment group, or “information and one-course waiver” treatment group to examine whether re-enrollment campaigns can improve their likelihood of long-term persistence and credential completion. Although we showed in earlier work that the “information and one-course waiver” treatment had a positive impact on former students’ likelihood of re-enrollment, our findings reveal the re-enrollment intervention has no effect on students’ likelihood of long-term persistence or credential completion for the pooled sample or any subgroup of interest, including low-income students, racially minoritized students, or adult students. Simply put, this particular re-enrollment intervention including one-time, one-course tuition waivers increased former students’ likelihood of re-enrollment but was not an effective lever to increase long-term academic outcomes among previously successful community college students who departed early without earning a credential.

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Stephen Mirabello, Rylie C. Martin, Christopher R. Marsicano.

Labor organization efforts grew following the pandemic in the United States at tech companies, automakers, and even higher education institutions. This brief examines unionization trends at private colleges and universities from 2007 to 2023, revealing staff as the main force behind unionization attempts, followed by contingent faculty. Major unions like the SEIU and the AFL-CIO play significant roles in representing college and university employees. This study underscores the importance of understanding historic unionization efforts, shedding light on often overlooked staff categories like maintenance and security.

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Di Xu, Kelli A. Bird, Michael Cooper, Benjamin L. Castleman.

Many public workforce training programs lead to industry-recognized, third-party awarded credentials, but little research has been conducted on the economic benefits of these credentials in the labor market. This paper provides quasi-experimental evidence on the labor market returns to industry-recognized credentials connected to community college workforce noncredit training programs. Based on novel data that includes approximately 24,000 working-age adults enrolled in noncredit workforce training programs at the Virginia Community College System, we employ a comparative individual-level fixed effects model to estimate earnings premia net of fixed attributes and earnings time-trends. Our results indicate that earning an industry-recognized credential, on average, increases quarterly earnings by approximately $1,000 and the probability of being employed by 2.4 percentage points, although there is substantial heterogeneity in economic return across different program fields. Back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that the earnings gains associated with the industry credential obtained through the noncredit workforce training would exceed program costs in just over half a year on average.

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