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Access and admissions

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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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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Kelli A. Bird, Benjamin L. Castleman, Gabrielle Lohner.

The COVID-19 pandemic led to an abrupt shift from in-person to virtual instruction in Spring 2020. Using a difference-in-differences framework that leverages within-course variation on whether students started their Spring 2020 courses in person or online, we estimate the impact of this shift on the academic performance of Virginia’s community college students. We find that the shift to virtual instruction resulted in a 6.7 percentage point decrease in course completion, driven by increases in both course withdrawal and failure. Faculty experience teaching a course online did not mitigate the negative effects of moving to virtual instruction.

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Benjamin L. Castleman, Francis X. Murphy, Richard W. Patterson, William L. Skimmyhorn.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill allows service members to transfer generous education benefits to a dependent. We run a large scale experiment that encourages service members to consider the transfer option among a population that includes individuals for whom the transfer benefits are clear and individuals for whom the net-benefits are significantly more ambiguous. We find no impact of a one-time email about benefits transfer among service members for whom we predict considerable ambiguity in the action, but sizeable impacts among service members for whom education benefits transfer is far less ambiguous. Our work contributes to the nascent literature investigating conditions when low-touch nudges at scale may be effective. JEL Classification: D15, D91, H52, I24

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Mingyu Chen, Jessica Howell, Jonathan Smith.

Recent immigration policies have created massive uncertainty for international students to obtain F-1 visas. Yet, before the COVID-19 pandemic, student visa applicants already faced an approximately 27 percent refusal rate that varies by time and region. Using data on the universe of SAT takers between 2004 and 2015 matched with college enrollment records, we examine how the anticipated F-1 visa restrictiveness influences US undergraduate enrollment outcomes of international students. Using an instrumental variables approach, we find that a higher anticipated F-1 student visa refusal rate decreases the number of international SAT takers, decreases the probability of sending SAT scores to US colleges, and decreases international student enrollment in the US. The decreases are larger among international students with higher measured academic achievement. We also document academic achievement of international students and show that over 40 percent of high-scoring international SAT takers do not pursue US college education.

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Elise Swanson, Joseph Kitchen, Tatiana Melguizo, Francisco Martorell.

We examine the impact of the Thompson Scholars Learning Community (TSLC), a comprehensive college transition program serving students with a variety of majors, on students’ science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)-related outcomes. We use an explanatory mixed-methods design, which prioritizes the quantitative analyses and uses qualitative analyses to contextualize and explain our quantitative findings. Overall, participating in TSLC does not make students more likely to declare a STEM major, although we do find a positive effect for students of color. TSLC students earn higher overall GPAs than their scholarship-only peers, and TSLC students majoring in STEM outperform scholarship-only STEM majors in STEM courses. Qualitative analyses suggest these results stem from the student-centered and proactive support the program provides students. Our results suggest that a disciplinarily-agnostic program can support student success in STEM, and may increase equitable representation in STEM fields.

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Elise Swanson, Tatiana Melguizo, Francisco Martorell.

This paper estimates the relationship between students’ psychosocial and academic outcomes during their first three years enrolled at public, four-year institutions. Our sample is comprised of students from low-income backgrounds who applied for a competitive scholarship and enrolled at a four-year public institution. We follow two cohorts of entering students throughout their first three years on campus. We observe their cumulative GPA and persistence decisions each semester, and have annual measures of four psychosocial outcomes: mattering to campus, sense of belonging to campus, academic self-efficacy, and social self-efficacy. We find that psychosocial outcomes are moderately predictive of academic outcomes, with sense of belonging and academic self-efficacy emerging as most predictive of both cumulative GPA and persistence.

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Plamen Nikolov, Nusrat Jimi.

Evidence on educational returns and the factors that determine the demand for schooling in developing countries is extremely scarce. We use two surveys from Tanzania to estimate both the actual and perceived schooling returns and subsequently examine what factors drive individual misperceptions regarding actual returns. Using ordinary least squares and instrumental variable methods, we find that each additional year of schooling in Tanzania increases earnings, on average, by 9 to 11 percent. We find that on average, individuals underestimate returns to schooling by 74 to 79 percent, and three factors are associated with these misperceptions: income, asset poverty, and educational attainment. Shedding light on what factors relate to individual beliefs about educational returns can inform policy on how to structure effective interventions to correct individuals' misperceptions.

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Alberto Guzman-Alvarez, Lindsay C. Page.

Verification is a federally mandated process that requires selected students to further attest that the information reported on their FAFSA is accurate and complete. In this brief, we estimate institutional costs of administrating the FAFSA verification mandate and consider variation in costs by institution type and sector. Using data from 2014, we estimate that compliance costs to institutions in that year totaled nearly $500 million with the burden falling disproportionately on public institutions and community colleges, in particular. Specifically, we estimate that 22% of an average community college’s financial aid office operating budget is devoted to verification procedures, compared to 15% at public four-year institutions. Our analysis is timely, given that rates of FAFSA verification have increased in recent years.

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Cassandra M. D. Hart, Brian Jacob, Susanna Loeb.

A common rationale for offering online courses in K-12 schools is that they allow students to take courses not offered at their schools; however, there has been little research on how online courses are used to expand curricular options when operating at scale. We assess the extent to which students and schools use online courses for this purpose by analyzing statewide, student-course level data from high school students in Florida, which has the largest virtual sector in the nation. We introduce a “novel course” framework to address this question. We define a virtual course as “novel” if it is only available to a student virtually, not face-to-face through their own home high school. We find that 7% of high school students in 2013-14 enroll in novel online courses. Novel courses were more commonly used by higher-achieving students, in rural schools, and in schools with relatively few Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate offerings.

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