Students’ college choices can affect their chances of earning a degree, but many lack the support to navigate the opaque college application and admissions process. This paper evaluates whether guaranteeing four-year college admissions based on transparent academic standards affected community college students’ enrollment choices and graduation rates. Guaranteed admissions increased high-GPA graduates’ transfer rates to highly-selective colleges by 30 percent. Increased transfers to highly-selective colleges also accompanied higher graduation rates and lower student debt. Gains were largest for students with historically lower transfer rates. Transparent admissions standards can increase access to selective colleges at low to no cost.
In the U.S., state politicians directly influence legislation and budget decisions that can substantially affect public education spending and students. Does the political party of elected officials matter for these outcomes? We use a regression discontinuity design to analyze close house and gubernatorial elections from 1982 to 2016 and find that the impact of Democratic control of state government depends on whether elections occur during a presidential election year. On average, Democratic states spend less per capita on K-12 education. This trend, however, reverses when Democrats secure marginal control during off-cycle elections. Outside of presidential election years, we find increased state expenditures on both K-12 education and higher education. These increases coincided with smaller K-12 class sizes, relatively higher high school diploma rates, and expanded college enrollment. Our results highlight the importance of considering how federal political contexts influence the effects of state-level politics on education finance and outcomes.