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Post-secondary education

Derek Rury.

To study beliefs about ability and STEM major choice, I conduct a field experiment where I provide students with information that they are above average in their top fields of study. I find that STEM students are more likely to switch out of their major and that non-STEM students fail to switch into STEM at the same rates as other fields. I also find that learning you are above average in your top field of study increases STEM major choice by almost a third, as STEM students appear more like to persist and non-STEM students increase their switching into STEM fields.

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Benjamin W. Arold, Ludger Woessmann, Larissa Zierow.

We study whether compulsory religious education in schools affects students' religiosity as adults. We exploit the staggered termination of compulsory religious education across German states in models with state and cohort fixed effects. Using three different datasets, we find that abolishing compulsory religious education significantly reduced religiosity of affected students in adulthood. It also reduced the religious actions of personal prayer, church-going, and church membership. Beyond religious attitudes, the reform led to more equalized gender roles, fewer marriages and children, and higher labor-market participation and earnings. The reform did not affect ethical and political values or non-religious school outcomes.

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Zachary Bleemer, Aashish Mehta.

Underrepresented minority (URM) college students have been steadily earning degrees in relatively less-lucrative fields of study since the mid-1990s. A decomposition reveals that this widening gap is principally explained by rising stratification at public research universities, many of which increasingly enforce GPA restriction policies that prohibit students with poor introductory grades from declaring popular majors. We investigate these GPA restrictions by constructing a novel 50-year dataset covering four public research universities' student transcripts and employing a staggered difference-in-difference design around the implementation of 29 restrictions. Restricted majors’ average URM enrollment share falls by 20 percent, which matches observational patterns and can be explained by URM students’ poorer average pre-college academic preparation. Using first-term course enrollments to identify students who intend to earn restricted majors, we find that major restrictions disproportionately lead URM students from their intended major toward less-lucrative fields, driving within-institution ethnic stratification and likely exacerbating labor market disparities.

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Matthew D. Baird, John Engberg, Isaac M. Opper.

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, both under a general social welfare function and under two commonly used social welfare functions. We next use data from a recent job training RCT to provide 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.

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Eric Bettinger, Benjamin L. Castleman, Alice Choe, Zachary Mabel.

Nearly half of students who enter college do not graduate. The majority of efforts to increase college completion have focused on supporting students before or soon after they enter college, yet many students drop out after making significant progress towards their degree. In this paper, we report results from a multi-year, large-scale experimental intervention conducted across five states and 20 broad-access, public colleges and universities to support students who are late in their college career but still at risk of not graduating. The intervention provided these “near-completer” students with personalized text messages that encouraged them to connect with campus-based academic and financial resources, reminded them of upcoming and important deadlines, and invited them to engage (via text) with campus-based advisors. We find little evidence that the message campaign affected academic performance or attainment in either the full sample or within individual higher education systems or student subgroups. The findings suggest low-cost nudge interventions may be insufficient for addressing barriers to completion among students who have made considerable academic progress.

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Todd Pugatch, Elizabeth Schroeder.

We assess whether a light-touch intervention can increase socioeconomic and racial diversity in undergraduate Economics. We randomly assigned over 2,200 students a message with basic information about the Economics major; the basic message combined with an emphasis on the rewarding careers or financial returns associated with the major; or no message. Messages increased the proportion of first generation or underrepresented minority (URM) students majoring in Economics by five percentage points. This effect size was sufficient to reverse the gap in Economics majors between first generation/URM students and students not in these groups. Effect sizes were larger and more precise for better-performing students and first generation students. Extrapolating to the full sample, the treatment would double the proportion of first generation and underrepresented minority students majoring in Economics.

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Fernanda Ramirez-Espinoza.

This paper presents evidence that women and men benefit from having a higher percentage of female peers in post-secondary vocational STEM programs. I use idiosyncratic variation in gender composition across cohorts within majors within branches (campuses) for identification. Having a higher percentage of female peers positively affects students in STEM majors, decreasing women's dropout rates and increasing GPA. The peer effect seems to be mediated by the gender of the instructors: as female students have fewer female instructors, the effect of having more female peers intensifies. For men, a higher percentage of female peers reduces dropouts and increases GPA to a lesser extent, suggesting that policies that increase the representation of women need not entail a trade-off for male STEM students.

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Zach Sullivan, Benjamin L. Castleman, Gabrielle Lohner, Eric Bettinger.

In-person college advising programs generate large improvements in college persistence and success for low-income students but face numerous barriers to scale. Remote advising models offer a promising strategy to address informational and assistance barriers facing the substantial majority of low-income students who do not have access to community-based advising, yet the existing evidence base on the efficacy of remote advising is limited. We present a comprehensive, multi-cohort experimental evaluation of CollegePoint, a national remote college advising program for high-achieving low- and moderate-income students. Students assigned to CollegePoint are modestly more likely (1.3 percentage points) to attend higher-quality institutions. Results from mechanism experiments we conducted within CollegePoint indicate that moderate changes to the program model, such as a longer duration of advising and modest expansions of the pool of students academically eligible to participate, do not lead to larger program effects. We also capitalize on across-cohort variation in whether students were affected by COVID-19 to investigate whether social distancing required by the pandemic increased the value of remote advising. CollegePoint increased attendance at higher-quality institutions by 3.2 percentage points for the COVID-19-affected cohort. Acknowledgements.

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Benjamin Skinner, Hazel Levy, Taylor Burtch.

Despite its increasing importance for educational practices, broadband is not equally accessible among all students. In addition to oft-noted last-mile barriers faced by rural students, there can be wide variation in in-home access between proximate urban and suburban neighborhoods ostensibly covered by the same telecommunications infrastructure. In this paper, we investigate the connection between these disparities and earlier redlining practices by spatially joining two current measures of broadband access with Depression-era residential security maps that graded neighborhoods for real estate investment risk from “Best” to “Hazardous” based in part on racist and classist beliefs. We find evidence that despite internet service providers reporting similar technological availability across neighborhoods, access to broadband in the home generally decreases in tandem with historic neighborhood risk classification. We further find differences in in-home broadband access by race/ethnicity and income level, both across and within neighborhood grades. Our results demonstrate how federally developed housing policies from the prior century remain relevant to the current digital divide and should be considered in discussions of educational policies that require broadband access for success.

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Julie Cohen, Anandita Krishnamachari, Vivian C. Wong.

Many novice teachers learn to teach “on-the-job,” leading to burnout and attrition among teachers and negative outcomes for students in the long term. Pre-service teacher education is tasked with optimizing teacher readiness, but there is a lack of causal evidence regarding effective ways for preparing new teachers. In this paper, we use a mixed reality simulation platform to evaluate the causal effects and robustness of an individualized, directive coaching model for candidates enrolled in a university-based teacher education program, as well as for undergraduates considering teaching as a profession. Across five conceptual replication studies, we find that targeted, directive coaching significantly improves candidates’ instructional performance during simulated classroom sessions, and that coaching effects are robust across different teaching tasks, study timing, and modes of delivery. However, coaching effects are smaller for a sub-population of participants not formally enrolled in a teacher preparation program. These participants differed from teacher candidates in multiple ways, including by demographic characteristics, as well as by their prior experiences learning about instructional methods. We highlight implications for research and practice.

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