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Inequality

Zachary Bleemer, Aashish Mehta.

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.

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J. Cameron Anglum, Kenneth A. Shores, Matthew P. Steinberg.

In 2009, the federal government passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to combat the effects of the Great Recession and state revenue shortfalls, directing over $97 billion to school districts. In this chapter, we draw lessons from this distribution of fiscal stimulus funding to inform future federal intervention in school finance during periods of economic downturn. We find that district spending declined by $945 per pupil per year following the Great Recession, particularly after a stimulus funding cliff when ARRA funding declined. Spending declines varied more within than across states, while stimulus funding was directed to districts through pre-Recession state funding formulae which varied in their relative progressivity. Spending losses were greater in districts serving fewer shares of students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch or special education services, in districts with higher-achieving students, and in districts with greater levels of spending prior to the Great Recession; declines were unassociated with district’s racial/ethnic composition, the share of English language learners, or a district’s reliance on state aid. We conclude by identifying different stimulus policy targets and with recommendations regarding the magnitude and distribution of future federal fiscal stimulus funding, lessons relevant to the COVID-19-induced recession and beyond.

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David M. Houston, Jeffrey R. Henig.

We examine the effects of disseminating academic performance data—either status, growth, or both—on parents’ school choices and their implications for racial, ethnic, and economic segregation. We conduct an online survey experiment featuring a nationally representative sample of parents and caretakers of children age 0-12. Participants choose between three randomly sampled elementary schools drawn from the same school district. Only growth information—alone and not in concert with status information—has clear and consistent desegregating consequences. Because states that include growth in their school accountability systems have generally done so as a supplement to and not a replacement for status, there is little reason to expect that this development will influence choice behavior in a manner that meaningfully reduces school segregation.

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Eric Bettinger, Benjamin L. Castleman, Alice Choe, Zachary Mabel.

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.

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Fernanda Ramirez-Espinoza.

This paper presents evidence that women and men benefit from having a higher percentage of female peers in post-secondary vocational STEM programs. I use idiosyncratic variation in gender composition across cohorts within majors within branches (campuses) for identification. Having a higher percentage of female peers positively affects students in STEM majors, decreasing women's dropout rates and increasing GPA. The peer effect seems to be mediated by the gender of the instructors: as female students have fewer female instructors, the effect of having more female peers intensifies. For men, a higher percentage of female peers reduces dropouts and increases GPA to a lesser extent, suggesting that policies that increase the representation of women need not entail a trade-off for male STEM students.

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Matthew A. Kraft, Manuel Monti-Nussbaum.

Narrative accounts of classroom instruction suggest that external interruptions, such as intercom announcements and visits from staff, are a regular occurrence in U.S. public schools. We study the frequency, nature, and duration of external interruptions in the Providence Public School District (PPSD) using original data from a district-wide survey and classroom observations. We estimate that a typical classroom in PPSD is interrupted over 2,000 times per year, and that these interruptions and the disruptions they cause result in the loss of between 10 to 20 days of instructional time. Administrators appear to systematically underestimate the frequency and negative consequences of these interruptions. We propose several organizational approaches schools might adopt to reduce external interruptions to classroom instruction.

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Zach Sullivan, Benjamin L. Castleman, Gabrielle Lohner, Eric Bettinger.

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.

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Benjamin Skinner, Hazel Levy, Taylor Burtch.

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.

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Amanda P. Williford, Pilar Alamos, Jessica E. Whittaker, Maria R. Accavitti.

We documented (1) the use of strategies, beyond suspensions and expulsions, that exclude young students from learning opportunities and (2) how teacher-reported use of these strategies varied according to student racial/ethnic composition. In a sample of 2,053 teachers and 40,771 kindergarten students, teachers reported on their use of five exclusionary strategies including isolated seating, removal from an activity, and loss of recess. Teachers reported substantive use of all exclusionary strategies and use varied depending on strategy. Teachers reported using certain exclusionary practices (break outside of classroom, loss of recess or free time, and limit talking) more frequently when they rated more Black versus White students to be lowest on self-regulation and social skills. Findings illustrate the value of looking beyond suspensions and expulsions in the early years to advance equity in young children’s opportunities to engage with teachers, peers, and learning tasks at school.

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Plamen Nikolov, Steve Yeh.

Cognition, a component of human capital, is fundamental for decision-making, and understanding the causes of human capital depreciation in old age is especially important in aging societies. Using various proxy measures of cognitive performance from a longitudinal survey in South Africa, we study how education affects cognition in late adulthood. We show that an extra year of schooling improves memory performance and general cognition. We find evidence of heterogeneous effects by gender: the effects are stronger among women. We explore potential mechanisms, and we show that a more supportive social environment, improved health habits, and reduced stress levels likely play a critical role in mediating the beneficial effects of educational attainment on cognition among the elderly.

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