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Access and admissions

Oded Gurantz, Ryan Sakoda, Shayak Sarkar.

This paper examines how financial aid reform based on postsecondary institutional performance impacts student choice. Federal and state regulations often reflect concerns about the private, for-profit sector's poor employment outcomes and high loan defaults, despite the sector's possible theoretical advantages. We use student level data to examine how eliminating public subsidies to attend low-performing for-profit institutions impacts students' college enrollment and completion behavior. Beginning in 2011, California tightened eligibility standards for their state aid program, effectively eliminating most for-profit eligibility. Linking data on aid application to administrative payment and postsecondary enrollment records, this paper utilizes a differences-in-differences strategy to investigate students' enrollment and degree completion responses to changes in subsidies. We find that restricting the use of the Cal Grant at for-profit institutions resulted in significant state savings but led to relatively small changes in students' postsecondary trajectories. For older, non-traditional students we find no impact on enrollment or degree completion outcomes. Similarly, for high school graduates, we find that for-profit enrollment remains strong. Unlike the older, non-traditional students, however, there is some evidence of declines in for-profit degree completion and increased enrollment at community colleges among the high school graduates, but these results are fairly small and sensitive to empirical specification. Overall, our results suggest that both traditional and non-traditional students have relatively inelastic preferences for for-profit colleges under aid-restricting policies.

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Kelli A. Bird, Benjamin L. Castleman, Zachary Mabel, Yifeng Song.

Colleges have increasingly turned to predictive analytics to target at-risk students for additional support. Most of the predictive analytic applications in higher education are proprietary, with private companies offering little transparency about their underlying models. We address this lack of transparency by systematically comparing two important dimensions: (1) different approaches to sample and variable construction and how these affect model accuracy; and (2) how the selection of predictive modeling approaches, ranging from methods many institutional researchers would be familiar with to more complex machine learning methods, impacts model performance and the stability of predicted scores. The relative ranking of students’ predicted probability of completing college varies substantially across modeling approaches. While we observe substantial gains in performance from models trained on a sample structured to represent the typical enrollment spells of students and with a robust set of predictors, we observe similar performance between the simplest and most complex models.

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Michael Bloem, Weixiang Pan, Jonathan Smith.

Using administrative data from Georgia, we provide the first study of the full set of college entrance exam-taking strategies, including who takes the ACT and the SAT (or both), when they take the exams, and how many times they take each exam. We have several main findings. First, one-third of exam takers take both the ACT and SAT. Second, we see pronounced disparities in several measures of exam-taking strategy by free- and reduced-price lunch status, even after including a rich set of controls, but not by underrepresented minority status. Third, we find evidence that taking more total exams leads to higher admissions-relevant test scores and a higher likelihood of enrolling in colleges with relatively high graduation rates and earnings. However, these relationships with test scores and college enrollment are smaller for those who take both the ACT and SAT, as opposed to retaking the same exam multiple times.

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Christa Deneault.

Barriers to accessing financial aid may keep students from matriculating to college. To test whether FAFSA completion is one of these barriers, I utilize a natural experiment brought about by a Louisiana mandate for seniors to file the FAFSA upon graduation from high school. Exploiting pre-treatment FAFSA completion rates as a treatment intensity in a dosage differences-in-differences specification, I find that a 10 percentage point lower pre-treatment FAFSA completion rate for a school implies a 1 percentage point larger increase in post-mandate college enrollment.

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Mingyu Chen.

Between 2005 and 2016, international enrollment in US higher education nearly doubled. I examine how trade shocks in education affect public universities' decision-making. I construct a shift-share instrument to exploit institutions' historical networks with different origins of international students, income growth, and exchange-rate fluctuations. Contrary to claims that US-born students are crowded out, I find that international students increase schools' funding via tuition payments, which leads to increased in-state enrollment and lower tuition prices. Schools also keep steady per-student spending and recruit more students with high math scores. Lastly, states allocate more appropriations to universities that attract fewer international students.

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Kaitlin P. Anderson, Bashir Sadat, Raquel Sosa.

Advanced course-taking in high school sends an important signal to college admissions officers, helps reduce the cost and time to complete a post-secondary degree, and increases educational attainment and future earnings. However, Black and Hispanic students in the U.S. are underrepresented in Advanced Placement coursework and dual enrollment (i.e. early college). In this paper, we systematically examine the social, demographic, economic, and policy factors that are predictive of racial gaps in AP enrollment and access to DE across the U.S. We find that many of the same factors that predict higher AP access overall also predict higher racial/ethnic gaps in AP, suggesting that policies aimed at increasing AP access need to specifically attend to the inequitable access, rather than simply focusing on increasing access overall. We also find evidence that that might indicate opportunity hoarding by White families contributes to AP gaps – but not DE gaps – suggesting that DE acts as a more equitable avenue for access to college coursework. Our most novel contribution to the literature is our analysis of policies aimed at reducing teacher shortages in high needs areas, in which we find no evidence that the disparities in access to advanced coursework were reduced following implementation of these policies.

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Scott J. Peters, James S. Carter III.

A wide research base has documented the unequal access to and enrollment in K-12 gifted and talented services and other forms of advanced learning opportunities. This study extends that knowledge base by integrating multiple population-level datasets to better understand correlates of access to and enrollment in gifted and talented services, seventh-grade Algebra 1, and eighth-grade Geometry. Results show that states vary widely with some serving 20% of their students as gifted while others serve 0%. Similarly, within-district income segregation, income-related achievement gaps, and the percent of parents with a college degree are the dominant predictors of a school offering these opportunities and the size of the school population served.

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Nicholas D.E. Mark, Sean P. Corcoran, Jennifer L. Jennings.

We provide a descriptive analysis of within-school and neighborhood similarity in high school applications in New York City. We depart from prior work by examining similarity in applications to specific schools rather than preferences for school characteristics. We find surprisingly low similarity within schools and neighborhoods, but substantial variation by race and prior achievement. White and Asian students are more likely to have choices in common relative to Black and Hispanic students, a difference that persists after controlling for achievement and location. Likewise, higher-achieving students are more likely to have choices in common, conditional on other student characteristics and location. An implication is that students’ likelihood of attending high school without any peers from their middle school or neighborhood varies by student background.

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Douglas N. Harris, Jonathan Mills.

We provide theory and evidence about how the design of college financial aid programs affects a variety of high school, college, and life outcomes. The evidence comes from an eight-year randomized trial where 2,587 high school ninth graders received a $12,000 merit-based grant offer. During high school, the program increased their college expectations and non-merit effort but had no effect on merit-related effort (e.g., GPA). After high school, the program increased graduation from two-year colleges only, apparently because of the free college design/framing in only that sector. But we see no effects on incarceration or teen pregnancy. Overall, the results suggest that free college affects student outcomes in ways similar to what advocates of free college suggest and making aid commitments early, well before college starts, increases some forms of high school effort. But we see no evidence that merit requirements are effective. Both the standard human capital model and behavioral economics are required to explain these results.

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George Bulman, Robert Fairlie.

Enrollment increased slightly at both the California State University and University of California systems in fall 2020, but the effects of the pandemic on enrollment in the California Community College system are mostly unknown and might differ substantially from the effects on 4-year colleges. This paper provides the first analysis of how the pandemic impacted enrollment patterns and the academic outcomes of community college students using administrative college-level panel data covering the universe of students in the 116-college California Community College system. We find that community college enrolment dropped precipitously in fall 2020 – the total number of enrolled students fell by 4 percent in spring 2020 and by 15 percent in fall 2020 relative to the prior year. All racial and ethnic groups experienced large enrollment decreases in spring and fall 2020, but African-American and Latinx students experienced the largest drops at 17 percent in fall 2020. Enrollment fell the most for first-year students in the community college system, basic skills courses, and fields such as engineering/industrial technology, education, interdisciplinary studies, and art. There were smaller decreases for continuing students, academic courses transferable to four-year institutions, and business and science fields. Enrollment losses were felt throughout the entire community college system, and there is no evidence that having a large online presence in prior years protected colleges from these effects. In terms of course performance, there was a larger disruption to completion rates, withdrawal rates, and grades in spring 2020 than in fall 2020. These early findings of the effects of the pandemic at community colleges, which serve higher percentages of lower-income and minority students, have implications for policy, impending budgetary pressures, and future research.

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