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Access and admissions
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.
In the competitive U.S. higher education market, institutions differentiate themselves to attract both students and tuition dollars. One understudied example of this differentiation is the increasing trend of "colleges" becoming "universities" by changing their names. Leveraging variation in the timing of such conversions in an event study framework, I show that becoming a university increases enrollments at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, which leads to an increase in degree production and total revenues. I further find that these effects are largest when institutions are the first in their market to convert to a university and can lead to negative spillover effects on non-converting colleges.
Recent state policy efforts have focused on increasing attainment among adults with some college but no degree (SCND). Yet little is actually known about the SCND population. Using data from the Virginia Community College System (VCCS), we provide the first detailed profile on the academic, employment, and earnings trajectories of the SCND population, and how these compare to VCCS graduates. We show that the share of SCND students who are academically ready to reenroll and would benefit from doing so may be substantially lower than policy makers anticipate. Specifically, we estimate that few SCND students (approximately three percent) could fairly easily re-enroll in fields of study from which they could reasonably expect a sizable earnings premium from completing their degree.
Underrepresented minority (URM) college students have been steadily earning degrees in relatively less-lucrative fields of study since the mid-1990s. A decomposition reveals that this widening gap is principally explained by rising stratification at public research universities, many of which increasingly enforce GPA restriction policies that prohibit students with poor introductory grades from declaring popular majors. We investigate these GPA restrictions by constructing a novel 50-year dataset covering four public research universities' student transcripts and employing a staggered difference-in-difference design around the implementation of 29 restrictions. Restricted majors’ average URM enrollment share falls by 20 percent, which matches observational patterns and can be explained by URM students’ poorer average pre-college academic preparation. Using first-term course enrollments to identify students who intend to earn restricted majors, we find that major restrictions disproportionately lead URM students from their intended major toward less-lucrative fields, driving within-institution ethnic stratification and likely exacerbating labor market disparities.
We consider the case in which the number of seats in a program is limited, such as a job training program or a supplemental tutoring program, and explore the implications that peer effects have for which individuals should be assigned to the limited seats. In the frequently-studied case in which all applicants are assigned to a group, the average outcome is not changed by shuffling the group assignments if the peer effect is linear in the average composition of peers. However, when there are fewer seats than applicants, the presence of linear-in-means peer effects can dramatically influence the optimal choice of who gets to participate. We illustrate how peer effects impact optimal seat assignment, both under a general social welfare function and under two commonly used social welfare functions. We next use data from a recent job training RCT to provide evidence of large peer effects in the context of job training for disadvantaged adults. Finally, we combine the two results to show that the program's effectiveness varies greatly depending on whether the assignment choices account for or ignore peer effects.
Nearly half of students who enter college do not graduate. The majority of efforts to increase college completion have focused on supporting students before or soon after they enter college, yet many students drop out after making significant progress towards their degree. In this paper, we report results from a multi-year, large-scale experimental intervention conducted across five states and 20 broad-access, public colleges and universities to support students who are late in their college career but still at risk of not graduating. The intervention provided these “near-completer” students with personalized text messages that encouraged them to connect with campus-based academic and financial resources, reminded them of upcoming and important deadlines, and invited them to engage (via text) with campus-based advisors. We find little evidence that the message campaign affected academic performance or attainment in either the full sample or within individual higher education systems or student subgroups. The findings suggest low-cost nudge interventions may be insufficient for addressing barriers to completion among students who have made considerable academic progress.
We assess whether a light-touch intervention can increase socioeconomic and racial diversity in undergraduate Economics. We randomly assigned over 2,200 students a message with basic information about the Economics major; the basic message combined with an emphasis on the rewarding careers or financial returns associated with the major; or no message. Messages increased the proportion of first generation or underrepresented minority (URM) students majoring in Economics by five percentage points. This effect size was sufficient to reverse the gap in Economics majors between first generation/URM students and students not in these groups. Effect sizes were larger and more precise for better-performing students and first generation students. Extrapolating to the full sample, the treatment would double the proportion of first generation and underrepresented minority students majoring in Economics.
We combine a large multi-site randomized control trial with administrative and survey data to demonstrate that intensive advising during high school and college leads to large increases in bachelor's degree attainment. Novel causal forest methods suggest that these increases are driven primarily by improvements in the quality of initial enrollment. Program effects are consistent across sites, cohorts, advisors, and student characteristics, suggesting the model is scalable. While current and proposed investments in postsecondary education focus on cutting costs, our result suggest that investment in advising is likely to be a more efficient route to promote bachelor's degree attainment.
In-person college advising programs generate large improvements in college persistence and success for low-income students but face numerous barriers to scale. Remote advising models offer a promising strategy to address informational and assistance barriers facing the substantial majority of low-income students who do not have access to community-based advising, yet the existing evidence base on the efficacy of remote advising is limited. We present a comprehensive, multi-cohort experimental evaluation of CollegePoint, a national remote college advising program for high-achieving low- and moderate-income students. Students assigned to CollegePoint are modestly more likely (1.3 percentage points) to attend higher-quality institutions. Results from mechanism experiments we conducted within CollegePoint indicate that moderate changes to the program model, such as a longer duration of advising and modest expansions of the pool of students academically eligible to participate, do not lead to larger program effects. We also capitalize on across-cohort variation in whether students were affected by COVID-19 to investigate whether social distancing required by the pandemic increased the value of remote advising. CollegePoint increased attendance at higher-quality institutions by 3.2 percentage points for the COVID-19-affected cohort. Acknowledgements.
Despite its increasing importance for educational practices, broadband is not equally accessible among all students. In addition to oft-noted last-mile barriers faced by rural students, there can be wide variation in in-home access between proximate urban and suburban neighborhoods ostensibly covered by the same telecommunications infrastructure. In this paper, we investigate the connection between these disparities and earlier redlining practices by spatially joining two current measures of broadband access with Depression-era residential security maps that graded neighborhoods for real estate investment risk from “Best” to “Hazardous” based in part on racist and classist beliefs. We find evidence that despite internet service providers reporting similar technological availability across neighborhoods, access to broadband in the home generally decreases in tandem with historic neighborhood risk classification. We further find differences in in-home broadband access by race/ethnicity and income level, both across and within neighborhood grades. Our results demonstrate how federally developed housing policies from the prior century remain relevant to the current digital divide and should be considered in discussions of educational policies that require broadband access for success.