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The COVID-19 pandemic led to an abrupt shift from in-person to virtual instruction in Spring 2020. We use two complementary difference-in differences frameworks, one that leverages within-instructor-by-course variation on whether students started their Spring 2020 courses in person or online and another that incorporates student fixed effects. We estimate the impact of this shift on the academic performance of Virginia’s community college students. With both approaches, we find modest negative impacts (three to six percent) on course completion. Our results suggest that faculty experience teaching a given course online does not mitigate the negative effects. In an exploratory analysis, we find minimal long-term impacts of the switch to online instruction.
Despite the prevalence of school tracking, evidence on whether it improves student success is mixed. This paper studies how tracking within high school impacts high-achieving students’ short- and longer-term academic outcomes. Our setting is a large and selective Chinese high school, where first-year students are separated into high-achieving and regular classrooms based on their performance on a standardized exam. Classrooms differ in terms of peer ability, teacher quality, class size, as well as level and pace of instruction. Using newly collected administrative data and a regression discontinuity design, we show that high-achieving classrooms improve math test scores by 23 percent of a standard deviation, with effects persisting throughout the three years of high school. Effects on performance in Chinese and English language subjects are more muted. Importantly, we find that high-achieving classrooms substantially raise enrollment in elite universities, as they increase scores on the national college entrance exam—the sole determinant of university admission in China.
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.
We study the long-term effects of a psychological intervention on longitudinal academic outcomes and degree completion of college students. All freshmen at a large public university were randomized to an online growth mindset, belonging, or control group. We tracked students’ academic outcomes including GPA, number of credits attempted and earned, major choices, and degree completion. We found no evidence of longitudinal academic treatment effects in the full sample. However, the mindset treatment improved term GPAs for Latinx students and the probability for Pell-eligible and Latinx students to major in selective majors. We also found no evidence of increased rates of on-time graduation, however, the treatment raised the probability to graduate with selective majors in four years, especially for Latinx students.
Recent state policy efforts have focused on increasing attainment among adults with some college but no degree (SCND). Yet little is actually known about the SCND population. Using data from the Virginia Community College System (VCCS), we provide the first detailed profile on the academic, employment, and earnings trajectories of the SCND population, and how these compare to VCCS graduates. We show that the share of SCND students who are academically ready to reenroll and would benefit from doing so may be substantially lower than policy makers anticipate. Specifically, we estimate that few SCND students (approximately three percent) could fairly easily re-enroll in fields of study from which they could reasonably expect a sizable earnings premium from completing their degree.
We use roster data of 96 top U.S. economics departments to document the academic origins of their tenure-track faculty. Academic origins may have implications for how undergraduate (B.A.) and doctoral (Ph.D.) students are trained and placed, as well as the type of research produced. We find that faculty educated at top-ranked Ph.D. universities are overrepresented; e.g., over half of our sample attended a top 15 university, and over a third attended a top six university. We find similar, but less pronounced, patterns for B.A. origins; e.g., over a third of those with a U.S. B.A. attended a top 15 university.
Recent expansions of child tax, food assistance and health insurance programs have made American families’ need for a robust social safety net highly evident, while researchers and policymakers continue to debate the best way to support families via the welfare state. How much do children – and which children – benefit from social spending? Using the State-by-State Spending on Kids Dataset, linked to National Vital Statistics System birth data from 1998-2017, we examine how state-level child spending affects infant health across maternal education groups. We find that social spending has benefits for both low birth weight and preterm birth rates, especially among babies born to mothers with less than a high school education. The stronger benefits of social spending among lower-educated families lead to meaningful declines in educational gaps in infant health as social spending increases. Finally, mediation analyses suggest that social spending benefits infant health through mothers’ increased access to prenatal services, as well as improvements in health behaviors. Our findings are consistent with the idea that a strong local welfare state benefits child health and increases equality of opportunity, and that spending on non-health programs is equally beneficial for child health as investments in health programs.
Student surveys are widely used to evaluate university teaching and increasingly adopted at the K-12 level, although there remains considerable debate about what they measure. Much disagreement focuses on the well-documented correlation between student grades and their evaluations of instructors. Using individual-level data from 19,000 evaluations of 700 course sections at a flagship public university, we leverage both within-course and within-student variation to rule out popular explanations for this correlation. Specifically, we show that the relationship cannot be explained by instructional quality, workload, grading stringency, or student sorting into courses. Instead, student grade satisfaction -- regardless of the underlying cause of the grades -- appears to be an important driver of course evaluations. We also present results from a randomized intervention with potential to reduce the magnitude of the association by reminding students to focus on relevant teaching and learning considerations and by increasing the salience of the stakes attached to evaluations for instructor careers. However, these prove ineffective in muting the relationship between grades and student scores.
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.
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.