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Post-secondary education

Lindsay C. Page, Katharine Meyer, Jeonghyun Lee, Hunter Gehlbach.

College success requires students to engage with their institution academically and administratively. Missteps with required administrative processes can threaten student persistence and success. Through two experimental studies, we assessed the effectiveness of an artificially intelligent text-based chatbot that provided proactive outreach and support to college students to navigate administrative processes and use campus resources. In both the two-year and four-year college context, outreach was most effective when focused on discrete administrative processes such as filing financial aid forms or registering for courses which were acute, time-sensitive, and for which outreach could be targeted to those for whom it was relevant. In the context of replicating studies to better inform policy and programmatic decision making, we draw three core lessons regarding the effective use of nudge-type efforts to promote college success.

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Sofia P. Baker, Cory Koedel.

We document trends in racial-ethnic and gender diversity among faculty at selective public universities in the U.S. since the turn of the 21st century, overall and separately in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Racial-ethnic and gender diversity have broadly increased during the 21st century, and racial-ethnic diversity has increased at an accelerated rate since racial protests swept across college campuses during the 2015-16 academic year. When we analyze STEM and non-STEM fields separately, we find the share of female faculty is increasing faster in STEM fields, which is decreasing the cross-field gender diversity gap. In contrast, the share of Black faculty in STEM fields is increasing at a much lower rate than in non-STEM fields, exacerbating the cross-field gap in the Black faculty share. A similar pattern is present among Hispanic assistant professors.

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Taylor Odle, Preston Magouirk.

Not all students who could benefit from college apply. With novel data on over 1.2 million high schoolers, we show that nearly 25% start but never complete a college application. We use descriptive techniques, data visualizations, and fixed effects models to explore this population of college-interested “non-submitters” to observe application behaviors; document differences across individual, school, and community contexts; and identify factors most predictive of non-submission. We find large gaps by race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and education-career plans, as well as by school type and community features. We also find that early application tasks and engagement strongly predict non-submission. This study breaks ground for future research into this unexplored group and informs strategies to support those at risk of non-submission.

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Brian Holzman, Irina Chukhray, Courtney Thrash.

There is a growing debate in social science and education policy research on how to improve college access for high-performing students from low-income or first-generation backgrounds. While some studies suggest that providing information to students impacts college access, other studies do not and suggest that students may need more support in the college search and choice processes. Using a regression discontinuity research design with a layered randomized controlled trial, this study examines how information and personal assistance impact SAT scores, college application behaviors, and college enrollment decisions among low-income and first-generation high school students in a large urban school district. The results show that an intensive, multi-year college access program has large, positive effects on applying to a selective college, the number of applications submitted to selective colleges, and enrollment in a selective college. In contrast, a low-touch, general information packet intervention shows null effects on these outcomes. Implications for future nudge interventions and scaling up social capital interventions are discussed.

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Timothy F. Harris, C. Lockwood Reynolds.

We analyze the impact of COVID-19 diagnoses on student grades, retention, and on-time graduation at a large public university. Even though COVID-19 rarely causes major health complications for a typical university student, diagnosis and quarantine may cause non-trivial disruptions to learning. Using event study analysis, we find that a COVID-19 diagnosis decreased a student's term grade point average (GPA) modestly by 0.08 points in the semester of diagnosis without significant effects afterward. The results were the most pronounced for male students, individuals with face-to-face instruction, and those with higher GPAs before the pandemic. We do not find a significant increase in the incidence of failing or withdrawing from a course due to diagnosis. In addition, we find no general evidence that the diagnoses delayed graduation or significantly altered first-year retention. However, the University experienced significant grade inflation during the pandemic, which exceeded the estimated effects of any COVID-19 diagnoses.

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Eric R. Felix, H. Kenny Nienhusser.

With an urgency to leverage existing and emerging policy reforms to improve student outcomes by centering educational equity, this manuscript explores the critical role of policy implementation in higher education–specifically in community colleges. In doing so, we explore historical and contemporary approaches to higher education, highlighting how policy implementation often serves as an opportunity and barrier to educational equity. In the first half, we summarize the literature on policy implementation in higher education and weave together a conversation that centers on the importance of equity. Then, we highlight our Equity-Centered Policy Implementation Framework and its six tenets to consider in centering the role of the individual within the implementation process and how they influence what implementers can achieve with policy reform. These tenets are Identity Conscious, Implementation Imaginations, Institutional Complexity, Sociopolitical Context, Layered Reforms, and Leveraged for Educational Equity. Next, we share implementation stories that draw from our body of research conducted across two higher education contexts (i.e., the California Community Colleges and City University of New York [CUNY] community colleges) to showcase research-informed strategies and approaches to policy implementation that led to more robust and transformative equity-oriented implementation processes in community college.

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Michel Grosz.

I estimate the effect of attending an associate's degree in nursing program on nursing licensure. I use student-level academic data for all California community college students, matched to public records on all nursing licenses earned in the state. I produce causal estimates using random variation from admissions lotteries at a large nursing program. Enrolling in the program increases the probability of having an active nursing license by 59 percentage points within three years. By seven years the effect is smaller and not statistically significant. I estimate the value of a nursing license as approximately $5,000-$6,000 per year.

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Mengyuan Liang.

Even though women have continuously caught up with men in education attainment and labor market participation since the 1970s, the wage gap between men and women still universally exists today. Do female college graduates still earn less than their male counterparts if men’s and women’s “profiles” of observed productivity-related characteristics are statistically adjusted to be equivalent? To answer this research question and better understand the current gender wage gap, I introduce a novel propensity score stratification method for gender wage gap decomposition. This new method overcomes certain limitations of the traditional Blinder-Oaxaca decomposition method, and provides an example of validly applying propensity score-based methods (mostly used in causal settings) to gender wage gap decomposition, a non-causal setting. Making use of this new method, I analyze a nationally representative sample from the Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study, which represents the 1993 Cohort of U.S. college graduates. Through propensity score stratification, the observed productivity-related characteristics between men and women in the sample are statistically adjusted to be equivalent within each stratum of propensity score. After “equalizing” these characteristics, evidence shows the women-to-men wage ratio among this college educated population is still 87.4% at the tenth year after they graduated from college. This remaining gender gap cannot be explained by the observed gender differences in productivity-related characteristics, and is the evidence of a discriminatory wage gap possibly existing in the labor market. Additionally, the unexplained gender wage gap universally exists regardless whether these “profiles” of qualifications and labor market experience are stereotypically female or male. Even acknowledging that this research cannot account for all the gender differences in productivity due to data limitation, the results of this research will add to the empirical evidence of measuring the discriminatory wage gap that possibly exists in the labor market.

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Joshua Hyman.

Guidance counselors provide the main source of college advising for low-income high school students, but are woefully understaffed in high-need schools. This paper evaluates an approach to school-based college advising that relies on teachers rather than counselors. Using a randomized control trial in sixty-two Michigan high schools, I estimate the effects of a college planning course for high school seniors on postsecondary enrollment, persistence, and degree receipt. The course teaches about postsecondary education opportunities, application processes, and strategies for persisting toward a degree. I find no effect of the course on the number of students entering college, but an increase in the number persisting and earning a degree, particularly among low-income students. This is due to a shift in the composition of enrollees toward higher-achieving students: the course increases enrollment among high-achieving, low-income students, who have relatively high persistence rates, and reduces enrollment among low-achieving students, who in the course’s absence would have enrolled and then quickly dropped out. The program’s main cost is potential learning loss from displaced time in other subjects, which is difficult to measure but appears small.

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Sandra E. Black, Lesley J. Turner, Jeffrey T. Denning.

In 2006, the federal government effectively uncapped student borrowing for graduate programs with the introduction of the Graduate PLUS loan program. Access to additional federal loans increased graduate students’ borrowing and shifted the composition of their loans from private to federal debt. However, the increase in borrowing limits did not improve access to existing programs overall or for underrepresented groups. Nor did access to additional loan aid result in significant increase in constrained students’ persistence or degree receipt. We document that among programs in which a larger share of graduate students had exhausted their annual federal loan eligibility before the policy change—and thus were more exposed to the expansion in access to credit—federal borrowing and prices increased.

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