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Serena Canaan

Serena Canaan, Stefanie Fischer, Pierre Mouganie, Geoffrey C. Schnorr.
To boost college graduation rates, policymakers often advocate for academic supports such as coaching or mentoring. Proactive and intensive coaching interventions are effective, but are costly and difficult to scale. We evaluate a relatively lower-cost group coaching program targeted at first-year college students placed on academic probation. Participants attend a workshop where coaches aim to normalize failure and improve self-confidence. Coaches also facilitate a process whereby participants reflect on their academic difficulties, devise solutions to address their challenges, and create an action plan. Participants then hold a one-time follow-up meeting with their coach or visit a campus resource. Using a difference-in-discontinuity design, we show that the program raises students’ first-year GPA by 14.6% of a standard deviation, and decreases the probability of first-year dropout by 8.5 percentage points. Effects are concentrated among lower-income students who also experience a significant increase in the probability of graduating. Finally, using administrative data we provide the first evidence that coaching/mentoring may have substantial long-run effects as we document significant gains in lower-income students’ earnings 7–9 years following entry to the university. Our findings indicate that targeted, group coaching can be an effective way to improve marginal students’ academic and early career outcomes.

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Serena Canaan, Pierre Mouganie, Peng Zhang.

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.

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Serena Canaan, Antoine Deeb, Pierre Mouganie.

This paper provides the first causal evidence on the impact of college advisor quality on student outcomes. To do so, we exploit a unique setting where students are randomly assigned to faculty advisors during their first year of college. We find that higher advisor value-added (VA) substantially improves freshman year GPA, time to complete freshman year and four-year graduation rates. Additionally, higher advisor VA increases high-ability students’ likelihood of enrolling and graduating with a STEM degree. Our results indicate that allocating resources towards improving the quality of academic advising may play a key role in promoting college success.

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Serena Canaan, Pierre Mouganie.

In an effort to reduce the STEM gender gap, policymakers often propose providing women with close mentoring by female scientists. This is based on the idea that female scientists might act as role models and counteract negative gender stereotypes that are pervasive in science fields. However, as of yet, there is still no clear evidence on the role of mentor or advisor gender in reducing the STEM gender gap. We use rich administrative data from a private 4-year college to provide some of the first causal evidence on the impact of advisor gender on women's STEM degree attainment. We exploit a unique setting where students are randomly assigned to academic advisors--who are also faculty members--in their freshman year of college. We find that being matched to a female rather than a male science advisor substantially narrows the gender gaps in STEM enrollment and graduation, with the strongest effects occurring among students who are highly skilled in math. In contrast, the gender of an advisor from a non-science department has no impact on students' major choice. Our results indicate that providing close mentoring or advising by female scientists can play an important role in promoting women's participation and persistence in STEM fields. 

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