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Post-secondary education

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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Blake Heller, Kirsten Slungaard Mumma.

While current debates center on whether and how to admit immigrants to the United States, little attention has been paid to interventions designed to help immigrants integrate after they arrive. Public adult education programs are the primary policy lever for building the language skills of the over 23 million adults with limited English proficiency in the United States. We leverage the enrollment lottery of a publicly-funded adult English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program in Massachusetts to estimate the effects of English language training on voting behavior and employer-reported earnings. Attending ESOL classes more than doubles rates of voter registration and increases annual earnings by $2,400 (56%). We estimate that increased tax revenue from earnings gains fully pay for program costs over time, generating a 6% annual return for taxpayers. Our results demonstrate the social value of post-migration investments in the human capital of adult immigrants.

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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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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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Sandra E. Black, Jeffrey T. Denning, Lisa J. Dettling, Sarena Goodman, Lesley J. Turner.

Growing reliance on student loans and repayment difficulties have raised concerns of a student debt crisis in the United States. However, little is known about the effects of student borrowing on human capital and long-run financial well-being. We use variation induced by recent expansions in federal loan limits, together with administrative schooling, earnings, and credit records, to identify the effects of increased student borrowing on credit-constrained students’ educational attainment, earnings, debt, and loan repayment. Increased student loan availability raises student debt and improves degree completion, later-life earnings, and student loan repayment while having no effect on homeownership or other types of debt.

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Monnica Chan, Zachary Mabel, Preeya Pandya Mbekeani.

Performance-based funding models for higher education, which tie state support for institutions to performance on student outcomes, have proliferated in recent decades. Some states have designed these policies to also address educational attainment gaps by including bonus payments for traditionally low-performing groups. Using a Synthetic Control Method research design, we examine the impact of these funding regimes on race-based completion gaps in Tennessee and Ohio. We find no evidence that performance-based funding narrowed race-based completion gaps. In fact, contrary to their intended purpose, we find that performance-based funding widened existing gaps in certificate completion in Tennessee. Across both states, the estimated impacts on associate degree outcomes are also directionally consistent with performance-based funding exacerbating racial inequities in associate degree attainment.

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Thomas S. Dee, Graciela Perez-Nunez.

A growing body of evidence suggests that vocationally focused programs of study substantially improve high-school completion and longer-run economic success. However, the corresponding recommendations to expand vocational programs may have unintended, negative consequences for low-income, academically successful students (i.e., the “missing one offs”) who have the capacity and motivation to attend highly selective universities. This study contributes to our understanding of these issues by examining an innovative, college-preparatory program targeted to academically successful Chilean students attending vocational high schools serving lower-income communities. This program (Escuela Desarrollo de Talentos or EDT) provides academic and social-emotional supports aligned with admission to selective universities. We examine the educational effects of EDT participation using a fuzzy regression-discontinuity design based on its eligibility rules. We find that the EDT program did not increase the probability of graduating from high school but did increase performance in math courses. We also find corresponding evidence suggesting that EDT participation increased math performance on college entrance exams and shifted students away from further postsecondary vocational training and towards matriculation at elite universities.

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Oded Gurantz, Christopher Wielga.

COVID has led colleges to brace for potential enrollment declines in the Fall, which would devastate budgets and potentially decrease the likelihood a student ever earns a degree. We take an early look at California’s FAFSA applications up through mid-June, to anticipate how students may be responding to this crisis. We find that COVID did not affect most of California’s “traditional” high school graduates due to an early deadline for financial aid, which exists in a number of states. From early March to mid-June, FAFSA applications among freshmen declined 18%, relative to prior years. Although there were initial declines in applications among more experienced students, these quickly rebounded and are now 9% higher relative to prior years. The largest FAFSA increases occurred in counties that saw the most dramatic increases in Unemployment Insurance claims.

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