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Post-secondary education

Lesley J. Turner, Oded Gurantz.

College attendance has increased significantly over the last few decades, but dropout rates remain high, with fewer than half of all adults ultimately obtaining a postsecondary credential. This project investigates whether one-on-one college coaching improves college attendance and completion outcomes for former low- and middle-income income state aid recipients who attended college but left prior to earning a degree. We conducted a randomized control trial with approximately 8,000 former students in their early- to mid-20s. Half of participants assigned to the treatment group were offered the opportunity to receive coaching services from InsideTrack, with all communication done remotely via phone or video. Intent-to-treat analyses based on assignment to coaching shows no impacts on college enrollment and we can rule out effects larger than a two-percentage point (5%) increase in subsequent Fall enrollment.

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Cheng Qian, Cory Koedel.

We examine the potential to expand and diversify the production of university STEM degrees by shifting the margin of initial enrollment between community colleges and 4-year universities. Our analysis is based on statewide administrative microdata from the Missouri Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development covering enrollees in all public postsecondary institutions statewide. We find that the potential for shifting the enrollment margin to expand degree production in STEM fields is modest, even at an upper bound, because most community college students are not academically prepared for bachelor’s degree programs in STEM fields. We also find that shifting the enrollment margin is unlikely to improve racial/ethnic diversity among university STEM degree recipients. This is because community college students at the enrollment margin are less diverse than their peers who enter universities directly.

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Stacey L. Brockman, Jasmina Camo-Biogradlija, Alyssa Ratledge, Rebekah O’Donoghue, Micah Y. Baum, Brian A. Jacob.

Detroit students who obtain a college degree overcome many obstacles to do so. This paper reports the results of a randomized evaluation of a program meant to provide support to low-income community college students. The Detroit Promise Path (DPP) program was designed to complement an existing College Promise scholarship, providing students with coaching, summer engagement, and financial incentives. The evaluation found that students offered the program enrolled in more semesters and earned more credits compared with those offered the scholarship alone. However, at the three-year mark, there were no discernable impacts on degrees earned. This paper examines systemic barriers to degree completion and offers lessons for the design of interventions to increase equity in postsecondary attainment.

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Alessandro Castagnetti, Derek Rury.

We administer a survey to study students' preferences for relative performance feedback in an introductory economics class. To do so, we elicit students' willingness to pay for/avoid learning their rank on a midterm exam. Our results show that 10% of students are willing to pay to avoid learning their rank. We also find that female students are willing to pay $1 more than male students. We also confirm that beliefs about academic performance do not predict preferences for information. After randomizing access to information about rank, students report needing more study hours to achieve their desired grade and being less likely in the top half of the ability distribution in the class. These effects are driven by stronger effects from people who overestimated their midterm rank compared to those who underestimated their performance. We do not find an overall effect of learning about rank performance on final course grade. We also confirm that students' preferences for feedback do not interfere with their belief updating.

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Hernando Grueso.

Given the spike of homicides in conflict zones of Colombia after the 2016 peace agreement, I study the causal effect of violence on college test scores. Using a difference-in-difference design with heterogeneous effects, I show how this increase in violence had a negative effect on college learning, and how this negative effect is mediated by factors such as poverty, college major, degree type, and study mode. A 10% increase in the homicide rate per 100,000 people in conflict zones of Colombia, had a negative impact on college test scores equivalent to 0.07 standard deviations in the English section of the test. This negative effect is larger in the case of poor and female students who saw a negative effect of approximately 0.16 standard deviations, equivalent to 3.4 percentage points out of the final score. Online and short-cycle students suffer a larger negative effect of 0.14 and 0.19 standard deviations respectively. This study provides among the first evidence of the negative effect of armed conflict on college learning and offers policy recommendations based on the heterogeneous effects of violence.

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Whitney Kozakowski.

Four-year public colleges may play an important role in supporting intergenerational mobility by providing an accessible path to a bachelor’s degree and increasing students' earnings. Leveraging a midsize state’s GPA- and SAT-based admissions thresholds for the four-year public sector, I use a regression discontinuity design to estimate the effect of four-year public college admissions on earnings and college costs. For low-income students and Black, Hispanic, or Native American students, admission to four-year public colleges increases mean annual earnings by almost $8,000 eight to fourteen years after applying without increasing the private costs of college. The state recovers the cost of an additional four-year public college admission through increased lifetime tax revenue. Expanding access to four-year public colleges may be a particularly effective way to improve the economic outcomes of low-income students and Black, Hispanic, or Native American students.

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Zachary Bleemer.

As affirmative action loses political feasibility, many universities have implemented race-neutral alternatives like top percent policies and holistic review to increase enrollment among disadvantaged students. I study these policies’ application, admission, and enrollment effects using University of California administrative data. UC’s affirmative action and top percent policies increased underrepresented minority (URM) enrollment by over 20 percent and less than 4 percent, respectively. Holistic review increases implementing campuses’ URM enrollment by about 7 percent. Top percent policies and holistic review have negligible effects on lower-income enrollment, while race-based affirmative action modestly increased enrollment among very low-income students. These findings highlight the enrollment gaps between affirmative action and its most common race-neutral alternatives and reveal that available policies do not substantially affect universities’ socioeconomic composition.

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Maria Marta Ferreyra, Carlos Garriga, Juan David Martin-Ocampo, Angelica Maria Sanchez-Diaz.

Despite the growing popularity of free college proposals, countries with higher college subsidies tend to have higher enrollment rates but not higher graduation rates. To capture this evidence and evaluate potential free college policies, we rely on a dynamic model of college enrollment, performance, and graduation estimated using rich student-level data from Colombia. In the model, student effort affects class completion and mitigates the risk of performing poorly or dropping out. Among our simulated policies, universal free college expands enrollment the most but has virtually no effect on graduation rates, helping explain the cross-country evidence. Performance-based free college triggers a more modest enrollment expansion but delivers a higher graduation rate at a lower fiscal cost. While both programs lower student uncertainty relative to the baseline, performance-based free college does it to a lower extent, which in turn promotes better student outcomes. Overall, free college programs expand enrollment but have limited impacts on graduation and attainment due to their limited impact on student effort.

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Maria Marta Ferreyra, Camila Galindo, Sergio Urzua.

This paper estimates the heterogeneous labor market effects of enrolling in higher education short-cycle (SC) programs. Expanding access to these programs might affect the behavior of some students (compliers) in two margins: the expansion margin (students who would not have enrolled in higher education otherwise) and the diversion margin (students who would have enrolled in bachelor’s programs otherwise). To quantify these responses, we exploit local exogenous variation in the supply of higher education institutions (HEIs) facing Colombian high school graduates in an empirical multinomial choice model with several instruments. According to our findings, the presence of at least one HEI specialized in SC programs in the vicinity of the student’s high school municipality increases SC enrollment by 3.7-4.5 percentage points (40-50% of the SC enrollment rate). The diversion margin largely drives this effect. For female compliers, enrollment in SC programs increases formal employment relative to the next-best alternative. For male compliers, in contrast, it lowers formal employment and wages. These results should alert policymakers of the unexpected consequences of higher education expansionary policies.

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Lelys Dinarte-Diaz, Maria Marta Ferreyra, Tatiana Melguizo, Angelica Maria Sanchez-Diaz.

Short-cycle higher education programs (SCPs), lasting two or three years, capture about a quarter of higher education enrollment in the world and can play a key role enhancing workforce skills. In this paper, we estimate the program-level contribution of SCPs to student academic and labor market outcomes, and study how and why these contributions vary across programs. We exploit unique administrative data from Colombia on the universe of students, institutions, and programs to control for a rich set of student, peer, and local choice set characteristics. We find that program-level contributions account for about 60-70 percent of the variation in student-level graduation and labor market outcomes. Our estimates show that programs vary greatly in their contributions, across and especially within fields of study. Moreover, the estimated contributions are strongly correlated with program outcomes but not with other commonly used quality measures. Programs contribute more to formal employment and wages when they are longer, have been provided for a longer time, are taught by more specialized institutions, and are offered in larger cities.

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