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Program and policy effects
Discussion of the rising price of higher education and associated student debt in America has been a key feature of political discourse in recent memory, with renewed interest sparked by the announcement of the student loan forgiveness plan. Federal student debt has increased by 756% since 1995, and total student debt tripled from 2007 to 2022. Concurrently, state support for public universities fell by 18% from 2000 to 2015. This phenomenon has drawn interest in the literature, with works by Jaquette and Curs (2015), Bound et al. (2016), Deming and Walters (2017), Webber (2017), and Mathias (2022) examining the effect of state disinvestment on higher education pricing and enrollment. This paper uses data from IPEDS to examine Colorado's College Opportunity Fund, which eliminated state appropriations to Colorado universities in 2006. I advance the literature by being the first to employ quasi-experimental methods, using a synthetic control identification strategy to measure the impact of this funding shock on enrollment and tuition revenue recuperation by Colorado universities. I find that Hispanic enrollment increased by 3 percentage points relative to the synthetic counterfactual, and that tuition revenue increased by 42% as a result of the policy. These results are robust to threats to identification, and placebo tests conrm the validity of the design. These findings provide robust evidence of the pitfalls of state disinvestment in higher education, and the consequences for students who are left to foot the bill.
A controversial, equity-focused mathematics reform in the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) featured delaying Algebra I until ninth grade for all students. This descriptive study examines student-level longitudinal data on mathematics course-taking across successive cohorts of SFUSD students who spanned the reform’s implementation. We observe large changes in ninth and tenth grades (e.g., delaying Algebra I and Geometry). Participation in Advanced Placement (AP) math initially fell 15% (6 pp.) driven by declines in AP Calculus and among Asian/Pacific-Islander students. However, growing participation in acceleration options attenuated these reductions. Large ethnoracial gaps in advanced math course-taking remained.
College attendance has increased significantly over the last few decades, but dropout rates remain high, with fewer than half of all adults ultimately obtaining a postsecondary credential. This project investigates whether one-on-one college coaching improves college attendance and completion outcomes for former low- and middle-income income state aid recipients who attended college but left prior to earning a degree. We conducted a randomized control trial with approximately 8,000 former students in their early- to mid-20s. Half of participants assigned to the treatment group were offered the opportunity to receive coaching services from InsideTrack, with all communication done remotely via phone or video. Intent-to-treat analyses based on assignment to coaching shows no impacts on college enrollment and we can rule out effects larger than a two-percentage point (5%) increase in subsequent Fall enrollment.
Detroit students who obtain a college degree overcome many obstacles to do so. This paper reports the results of a randomized evaluation of a program meant to provide support to low-income community college students. The Detroit Promise Path (DPP) program was designed to complement an existing College Promise scholarship, providing students with coaching, summer engagement, and financial incentives. The evaluation found that students offered the program enrolled in more semesters and earned more credits compared with those offered the scholarship alone. However, at the three-year mark, there were no discernable impacts on degrees earned. This paper examines systemic barriers to degree completion and offers lessons for the design of interventions to increase equity in postsecondary attainment.
We examine the potential to expand and diversify the production of university STEM degrees by shifting the margin of initial enrollment between community colleges and 4-year universities. Our analysis is based on statewide administrative microdata from the Missouri Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development covering enrollees in all public postsecondary institutions statewide. We find that the potential for shifting the enrollment margin to expand degree production in STEM fields is modest, even at an upper bound, because most community college students are not academically prepared for bachelor’s degree programs in STEM fields. We also find that shifting the enrollment margin is unlikely to improve racial/ethnic diversity among university STEM degree recipients. This is because community college students at the enrollment margin are less diverse than their peers who enter universities directly.
Prior research has documented substantial inequity across, racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic lines within the population of students identified as gifted. Less attention has paid to the equity of gifted identification for student learning English or those with disabilities and what effect state policies toward gifted education might have on these rates. This paper attempted to fill that void by analyzing data from the Office of Civil Rights Data Collection and Stanford Education Data Archive along with original coding of state gifted education policies. Our findings show that while both groups are substantially underrepresented, state mandates for schools to offer services, requirements for formal gifted education plans, and regular audits for compliance are correlated with much higher rates of gifted service availability and equity for English learners and students with disabilities. We also describe the location and characteristics of the top 5% most equitable schools for English learners and students with disabilities.
We provide evidence from a randomized controlled trial on the effectiveness of a novel, 100-percent online math tutoring program, targeted at secondary school students from highly disadvantaged neighborhoods. The intensive, eight-week-long program was delivered by qualified math teachers in groups of two students during after-school hours. The intervention significantly increased standardized test scores (+0.26 SD) and end-of-year math grades (+0.48 SD), while reducing the probability of repeating the school year. The intervention also raised aspirations, as well as self-reported effort at school.
School autonomy has been and continues to be one of the most important education reform strategies around the world despite ambiguity about its theoretical and empirical effects on students learning. We use international data from PISA to test three country-level factors that might account for inconsistent results in prior literature: (1) the selective implementation of school autonomy based on school performance; (2) differential influence on high-risk subgroups; and (3) the presence of accountability policies to prevent opportunism by autonomous schools. We find that the relationship between autonomy and student test performance varies both across countries and within countries across subgroups in both magnitude and direction. Similar results are observed if decentralization is coupled with accountability policies. All of three tested factors influence country-level associations between school decentralization and student learning, which suggests that autonomy is effective only when contextual factors and other policies are aligned.
A systematic review of the literature (1965–2022) and meta-analysis were undertaken to compare the school readiness skills of children participating in public pre-kindergarten (pre-K) or Head Start. Seven quasi-experimental studies met the inclusion criteria for the meta-analysis and 38 effect sizes were analyzed. Results indicated no reliable meta-analytic effect in relation to children’s school readiness skills overall nor in relation to language, mathematics, or social-behavioral skills specifically. A small, positive meta-analytic effect favoring public pre-K compared to Head Start participation was found in relation to children’s emergent literacy skills (Hedges’ g = 0.17). Strategies are discussed to further equate the benefits of public pre-K and Head Start programming by facilitating greater cross-sector collaboration.
The Advanced Placement (AP) program is nearly ubiquitous in American high schools and is often touted as a way to close racial and socioeconomic gaps in educational outcomes. Using administrative data from Michigan, I exploit variation within high schools across time in AP course offerings to identify the causal effect of AP course availability on college choice and degree attainment. I find that higher income students, White and Asian students, and higher-achieving students are more likely to take advantage of additional AP courses when they are offered, thus widening existing gaps in course-taking. I find little evidence that additional AP availability improves college outcomes for any students. Expanding access to AP courses without additional incentives or support for disadvantaged students to succeed is unlikely to address educational inequality.