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EdWorkingPapers

Celeste K. Carruthers, Christopher Jepsen.

Vocational education is formal education about work, and vocational programs of study typically target a narrow subset of middle-income occupations. In this chapter, we trace vocational education from competing 20th century education philosophies to its varied structures throughout the 21st century world. We then review the body of economic research on labor market returns to vocational education. Three themes from this rapidly expanding literature are that (1) workers with a vocational education tend to have a flatter age-employment profile than workers with an academic education, (2) individuals who seek and gain access to more secondary vocational education tend to have better attainment and early-career outcomes, whereas the effects of large-scale changes to tracking in secondary grades are more ambiguous; and (3) vocational postsecondary education is associated with improved labor market outcomes relative to no or incomplete postsecondary education, particularly for multi-year programs. We close by highlighting areas where more empirical research is needed, which include a deeper understanding of the long-term and inter-generational effects of vocational education on stability and growth in earnings, and the effects of vocational education in the developing world.

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Benjamin L. Castleman, Denise Deutschlander, Gabrielle Lohner.

Growing experimental evidence demonstrates that low-touch informational, nudge, and virtual advising interventions are ineffective at improving postsecondary educational outcomes for economically-disadvantaged students at scale. Intensive in-person college advising programs are a considerably higher-touch and more resource intensive strategy; some programs provide students with dozen of hours of individualized assistance starting in high school and continuing through college, and can cost thousands of dollars per student served. Despite the magnitude of this investment, causal evidence on these programs' impact is quite limited, particularly for programs that serve Hispanic students, the fastest growing segment of U.S. college enrollees. We contribute new evidence on the impact of intensive college advising programs through a multi-cohort RCT of College Forward, which provides individualized advising from junior year of high school through college for a majority Hispanic student population in Texas. College Forward leads to a 7.5 percentage point increase in enrollment in college, driven entirely by increased enrollment at four-year universities. Students who receive College Forward advising are nearly 12 percentage points more likely to persist to their third year of college. While more costly and harder to scale than low-touch interventions, back of the envelope calculations suggest that the benefit from increased college graduation likely induced by the program outweighs operating costs in less than two years following college completion.

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Robert M. Costrell.

How are teacher pension benefits funded?   Under traditional plans, the full cost of a career teacher’s benefits far exceeds the contributions designated for them.  The gap between the two has three pieces, which may (with some license) be mnemonically tagged the three R’s of pension funding:  Redistribution, Return, and Risk.  First, some contributions made for the benefits of short-term teachers are Redistributed to fund the benefits of career teachers.  Second, pension plans assume rosy Returns on their investments, which push costs onto future teachers and taxpayers.  Finally, the Risk inherent in providing guaranteed pensions carries other costs, tangible and intangible, notably including the non-trivial risk of insolvency, which would dramatically raise mandated contributions and endanger future teacher benefits.   I quantify these three components of the gap between benefits and contributions using the same metric as annual contributions.  Illustrating with the California plan, I find the full cost of a career teacher’s annual accumulation of benefits can be as high as 46.6 percent of earnings, nearly triple the corresponding contributions of 17.5 percent.  To understand this gap, which fiscally impacts all areas of education policy, researchers and practitioners may find it helpful to think of the three R’s of pension funding:  Redistribution, Return, and Risk. 

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Jon Valant, Lindsay Weixler.

In order for school choice reforms to fulfill their potential, school choosers must be informed about their options. We conducted a randomized controlled trial during the school choice application period in New Orleans to assess the effects of providing information to parents. Families with children entering pre-K, kindergarten, or ninth grade were assigned to one of two treatment groups or a control group. A “performance” group received lists of the highest-performing schools or programs available (via U.S. mail, email, and text message). A “neighborhood” group received lists of the schools or programs in their home geographic zone. We find that the performance treatment made applicants significantly more likely to request high-performing schools, though the effects were concentrated among high school choosers. The performance treatment had especially strong effects among families of students with disabilities. The neighborhood treatment had only modest effects. We consider these findings in the context of questions about the role of information in school choice markets, as well as which families may be in particular need of support.

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Todd R. Jones, Arielle Sloan.

Academic origins in economics departments, defined as the universities at which tenure-track faculty completed their doctoral studies, may have implications for how the department’s undergraduate and PhD students are trained and placed, as well as the type of research produced. In this project, we use roster data on the academic origins of the tenure-track faculty at 96 U.S. economics departments with graduate degrees. We use these data to document patterns in academic origins across several dimensions, including department ranking, gender, rank (Assistant, Associate, Full Professor), and geography. We find that 1) over half of the faculty of each of eight top departments received their PhD from one of these same universities; 2) at least half of faculty from all top-25 departments come from top-15 universities; 3) over half of Harvard and MIT faculty received their PhD at either Harvard or MIT; and 4) over half of all faculty in the study come from top-15 universities, with Harvard, MIT, and the rest of the top six disproportionately represented. The first and third findings are more pronounced for female faculty.  

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Michel Grosz, Michal Kurlaender, Ann Stevens.

This article asks whether small changes to community college courses and programs can help improve student outcomes. We use administrative data from the California Community College system, including millions of student records and detailed course-level information for most career-technical education programs in the state. We construct a summary measure of each program’s flexibility, incorporating many components of the availability and scheduling of its courses. We show considerable variation in this flexibility measure across programs and over time. An increase in a program’s flexibility is associated with increases in enrollment and completions, but not with changes in its completion rate.

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David M. Quinn, Andrew D. Ho.

The estimation of test score “gaps” and gap trends plays an important role in monitoring educational inequality. Researchers decompose gaps and gap changes into within- and between-school portions to generate evidence on the role schools play in shaping these inequalities. However, existing decomposition methods assume an equal-interval test scale and are a poor fit to coarsened data such as proficiency categories. This leaves many potential data sources ill-suited for decomposition applications. We develop two decomposition approaches that overcome these limitations: an extension of V, an ordinal gap statistic, and an extension of ordered probit models. Simulations show V decompositions have negligible bias with small within-school samples. Ordered probit decompositions have negligible bias with large within-school samples but more serious bias with small within-school samples. More broadly, our methods enable analysts to (1) decompose the difference between two groups on any ordinal outcome into portions within- and between some third categorical variable, and (2) estimate scale-invariant between-group differences that adjust for a categorical covariate.        

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Rajeev Darolia, Sam Owens, John Tyler.

The opioid crisis is widely recognized as one of the most important public health emergencies of our time, and an issue that is particularly acute for rural communities. We propose a simple model of how opioids in a community can impact the education outcomes of children based on both the extent of exposure to opioids in the community and the child’s vulnerability to any given level of exposure. Next, we document the spatial dimensions of the intersection of the opioid crisis and standardized test scores using national data, with a focus on rural communities. Finally, we estimate the extent to which variation in one measure of the opioid crisis, drug-related mortality, is related to variation in test scores. We find strong relationships between the two, as well as evidence that the relationship is particularly salient for 3rd grade students in rural communities.

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Rebecca Unterman, Christina Weiland.

While there is a consensus that attending preschool better prepares children for kindergarten, evidence on the factors that sustain the preschool boost into the early elementary years is still emerging.  To add to this literature, we use lottery data from applicants to oversubscribed schools in Boston Public Schools (BPS) prekindergarten program to estimate variation in the effects of the program across school sites through the end of third grade.  Student outcomes include children’s kindergarten-through-second-grade retention, kindergarten-through-third-grade special education placement, and third-grade state English Language Arts and math test scores.  We find statistically significant variation in effects in all student outcomes and we predict this variation with multiple proxies for early elementary school quality.  We find that the academic proficiency of third-graders within the schools for which prekindergarten children competed is most strongly associated with prekindergarten program effects. Prekindergarten gains persisted if students applied to and won a seat in a higher-quality elementary school. Our findings appear to be driven by the schools themselves and not by student selection in higher-scoring schools, nor by the counterfactual.  These findings imply that policymakers and practitioners interested in sustained gains may need to also invest in improving the quality of children’s K-3 experience.

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Todd R. Jones, Daniel Kreisman, Ross Rubenstein, Cynthia Searcy, Rachana Bhatt.

For years Georgia's HOPE Scholarship program provided full tuition scholarships to high achieving students. State budgetary shortfalls reduced its generosity in 2011. Under the new rules, only students meeting more rigorous merit-based criteria would retain the original scholarship covering full tuition, now called Zell Miller, with other students seeing aid reductions of approximately 15 percent. We exploit the fact that two of the criteria were high school GPA and SAT/ACT score, which students could not manipulate when the change took place. We compare already-enrolled students just above and below these cutoffs, making use of advances in multi-dimensional regression discontinuity, to estimate effects of partial aid loss. We show that, after the changes, aid flowed disproportionately to wealthier students, and find no evidence that the financial aid reduction affected persistence or graduation for these students. The results suggest that high-achieving students, particularly those already in college, may be less price sensitive than their peers.

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