Search EdWorkingPapers

Search for EdWorkingPapers here by author, title, or keywords.

Post-secondary education

Stephanie Riegg Cellini, Hernando Grueso.

We draw on administrative data from the country of Colombia to assess differences in student learning in online and traditional on-campus college programs. The Colombian context is uniquely suited to study this topic, as students take an exit examination at the end of their studies. We can therefore directly compare performance on the exit exam for students in online and on-campus programs both across and within institutions, degrees, and majors. Using inverse probability weighting methods based on a rich set of background characteristics coupled with institution-degree-major fixed effects, our results suggest that bachelor’s degree students in online programs perform worse on nearly all test score measures (including math, reading, writing, and English) relative to their counterparts in on-campus programs. Results for shorter technical certificates are more mixed.  While online students perform significantly worse than on-campus students on exit exams in private institutions, they perform better in SENA—the main public vocational institution in the country.

More →


Rachel Baker, Elizabeth Friedmann, Michal Kurlaender.

The transfer between two-year and four-year colleges is a critical path to baccalaureate attainment. Yet, students face a number of barriers in transfer pathways, including a lack of coherent coordination and articulation between their community colleges and four-year institutions, resulting in excess units and increased time to degree. In this paper we evaluate the impact of California’s Student Transfer Achievement Reform Act, which aimed to create a more seamless pathway between the Community Colleges and the California State University. We investigate whether the reform effort met its intended goal of improving baccalaureate receipt, and greater efficiency in earning these degrees, among community college transfer students. We tease out plausibly causal effects of the policy by leveraging the exogenous variation in the timing of the implementation of the reform in different campuses and fields of study. We find that this reform effort has led to significant reductions in time to baccalaureate receipt among community college transfers and reduced total unit accumulation. These positive effects were shared across all student subgroups.

More →


Michel Grosz.

I study how postsecondary admission policies affect the composition and subsequent academic outcomes of new cohorts. I leverage the staggered replacement of lotteries and waitlists at California's community college nursing programs with admissions that rely on grades, work experience, and other measures. The change in admissions increased the average prior academic performance of incoming cohorts, but did not improve academic outcomes such as completion rates or pass rates on the national licensing exam. I find suggestive evidence that the change in admissions decreased the share of new students who were not White, but by small amounts. The change in admissions also substantially reduced the time students spent waiting between taking prerequisite coursework and entering the nursing programs.

More →


Kalena E. Cortes, Daniel Klasik.

The Top 10% Plan admissions policy has now been in place in Texas for over two decades. We analyze 18 years of post-Top 10% Plan data to look for evidence of increased access to the selective Texas flagship campuses among all Texas high schools. We provide a detailed description of changes in enrollment patterns at the flagship campuses from Texas high schools after the implementation of the Top 10% Plan, focusing on whether the policy resulted in new sending patterns from high schools that did not have a history of sending students to the flagship campuses. Our analysis reveals an increase in the likelihood that high schools in non-suburban areas sent students to the flagship campuses, but ultimately little to no equity-producing effects of the Top 10% Plan over this 18-year period. In fact, the representation of traditional, always-sending, feeder high schools on the flagship campuses continued to dwarf the population of students from other high schools. Thus, the purported high school representation benefits of the policy appear to be overstated and may not go as far as advocates might have hoped in terms of generating equity of access to the flagship campuses in the state.

More →


Beth Glenn, Douglas N. Harris.

Multiple studies have documented the positive effect of school choice on college attendance. We focus instead on the quality of colleges, which is linked to higher graduation rates and later-in-life wages, especially for Black and Hispanic students. We examine the effect of the New Orleans school reforms, a district-wide reform creating an almost all-charter school district, on the quality of colleges that students attended. Using difference-in-differences analysis of statewide microdata, we find that the reforms led students to attend four-year colleges, and higher-quality ones, at higher rates. The reforms also increased the share of college-goers who were well matched to their colleges and this had little effect on transfer or persistence rates. Overall, these results reinforce that the reforms led students to attend higher-quality colleges that will improve long-term life outcomes.

More →


Di Xu, Florence Xiaotao Ran.

Using data with detailed instructor employment information from a state college system, this study examines disciplinary variations in the characteristics and effects of non-tenure-track faculty hired through temporary and long-term employment. We identify substantial differences in the demographic and employment characteristics between the two types of non-tenure-line faculty, where the differences are most pronounced in STEM fields at four-year colleges. Using an instrumental variables strategy to address student sorting, our analyses indicate that taking introductory courses with temporary adjuncts reduces subsequent interest, and the effects are particularly large in STEM fields at four-year colleges. Long-term non-tenure faculty are generally comparable to tenure-track faculty in student subsequent interest, but tenure-track faculty are associated with better subsequent performance in a handful of fields.

More →


George Bulman, Robert Fairlie, Sarena Goodman, Adam Isen.

We examine U.S. children whose parents won the lottery to trace out the effect of financial resources on college attendance. The analysis leverages federal tax and financial aid records and substantial variation in win size and timing. While per-dollar effects are modest, the relationship is weakly concave, with a high upper bound for amounts greatly exceeding college costs. Effects are smaller among low-SES households, not sensitive to how early in adolescence the shock occurs, and not moderated by financial aid crowd-out. The results imply that households derive consumption value from college and household financial constraints alone do not inhibit attendance.

More →


Alex Eble, Feng Hu.

Improving college reputation can potentially impact both college choice and graduates’ early labor market performance. We study how one common practice to improve college reputation – colleges changing their names to signal higher quality – affects these two outcomes. Using a large administrative dataset from China, we show that colleges who change their names attract more qualified applicants, with larger effects among applicants who have less information about the college. These impacts persist over time, suggesting that name changes have self-reinforcing effects. To understand how name changes impact college graduates’ labor market performance, we conduct a resume audit study to estimate how listing a college’s new (vs. old) name affects employers’ recruitment decisions. We observe a small benefit for new college names in most jobs, but a penalty in jobs with low skill and experience requirements, which is consistent with employers responding rationally to how college name changes affect student aptitude.

More →


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.

More →


Michel Grosz, Michal Kurlaender, Ann Stevens.

This article asks whether small changes to community college courses and programs can help improve student outcomes. We use administrative data from the California Community College system, including millions of student records and detailed course-level information for most career-technical education programs in the state. We construct a summary measure of each program’s flexibility, incorporating many components of the availability and scheduling of its courses. We show considerable variation in this flexibility measure across programs and over time. An increase in a program’s flexibility is associated with increases in enrollment and completions, but not with changes in its completion rate.

More →