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Access and admissions

Taylor Odle, Preston Magouirk.

Not all students who could benefit from college apply. With novel data on over 1.2 million high schoolers, we show that nearly 25% start but never complete a college application. We use descriptive techniques, data visualizations, and fixed effects models to explore this population of college-interested “non-submitters” to observe application behaviors; document differences across individual, school, and community contexts; and identify factors most predictive of non-submission. We find large gaps by race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and education-career plans, as well as by school type and community features. We also find that early application tasks and engagement strongly predict non-submission. This study breaks ground for future research into this unexplored group and informs strategies to support those at risk of non-submission.

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Brian Holzman, Irina Chukhray, Courtney Thrash.

There is a growing debate in social science and education policy research on how to improve college access for high-performing students from low-income or first-generation backgrounds. While some studies suggest that providing information to students impacts college access, other studies do not and suggest that students may need more support in the college search and choice processes. Using a regression discontinuity research design with a layered randomized controlled trial, this study examines how information and personal assistance impact SAT scores, college application behaviors, and college enrollment decisions among low-income and first-generation high school students in a large urban school district. The results show that an intensive, multi-year college access program has large, positive effects on applying to a selective college, the number of applications submitted to selective colleges, and enrollment in a selective college. In contrast, a low-touch, general information packet intervention shows null effects on these outcomes. Implications for future nudge interventions and scaling up social capital interventions are discussed.

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Clemence Darriet, Lucrecia Santibanez.

Purpose. Bilingual programs in the United States, particularly two-way dual language immersion (TWDL) programs, have been implemented since the 1960s to support the education of English Learner-classified (EL-classified) and language minoritized students. Over the past decade, TWDL programs have grown significantly across the United States. This study examines TWDL program growth in Los Angeles Unified School District, exploring the relationships between program expansion and neighborhood change, enrollment declines, and school choice. These factors have been linked to decreased access to these programs for language minoritized students. Research Methods/Approach. We descriptively examine the neighborhood characteristics of TWDL schools over a 22-year period using publicly available school, census, and housing data, and investigate the relationship between these factors and TWDL emergence. Findings. We find that of the three factors we explored, enrollment change (specifically declining enrollment) and the existence of nearby charter schools are two factors most likely to be associated with TWDL program emergence. We find little evidence that TWDL are primarily emerging in gentrifying contexts. Implications. This study helps us understand general, decade-long trends of TWDL program expansion and dispersion in a district undergoing many of the phenomena described in the literature on this topic.

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Joshua Hyman.

Guidance counselors provide the main source of college advising for low-income high school students, but are woefully understaffed in high-need schools. This paper evaluates an approach to school-based college advising that relies on teachers rather than counselors. Using a randomized control trial in sixty-two Michigan high schools, I estimate the effects of a college planning course for high school seniors on postsecondary enrollment, persistence, and degree receipt. The course teaches about postsecondary education opportunities, application processes, and strategies for persisting toward a degree. I find no effect of the course on the number of students entering college, but an increase in the number persisting and earning a degree, particularly among low-income students. This is due to a shift in the composition of enrollees toward higher-achieving students: the course increases enrollment among high-achieving, low-income students, who have relatively high persistence rates, and reduces enrollment among low-achieving students, who in the course’s absence would have enrolled and then quickly dropped out. The program’s main cost is potential learning loss from displaced time in other subjects, which is difficult to measure but appears small.

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Sandra E. Black, Lesley J. Turner, Jeffrey T. Denning.

In 2006, the federal government effectively uncapped student borrowing for graduate programs with the introduction of the Graduate PLUS loan program. Access to additional federal loans increased graduate students’ borrowing and shifted the composition of their loans from private to federal debt. However, the increase in borrowing limits did not improve access to existing programs overall or for underrepresented groups. Nor did access to additional loan aid result in significant increase in constrained students’ persistence or degree receipt. We document that among programs in which a larger share of graduate students had exhausted their annual federal loan eligibility before the policy change—and thus were more exposed to the expansion in access to credit—federal borrowing and prices increased.

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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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Benjamin Skinner, Hazel Levy, Taylor Burtch.

Broadband is not equally accessible among students despite its increasing importance to education. We investigate the relationship between broadband and housing policy by joining two measures of broadband access with Depression-era redlining maps that classified neighborhoods based in part on racist and classist beliefs. We find that despite internet service provider selfreports of similar technological availability, broadband access generally decreases in tandem with historic neighborhood classification, with further heterogeneity by race/ethnicity and income. Our findings demonstrate how past federally-developed housing policies connect to the digital divide and should be considered in educational policies that require broadband for success.

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Julie J. Park, Brian Heseung Kim, Nancy Wong, Jia Zheng, Stephanie Breen, Pearl Lo, Dominique J. Baker, Kelly Ochs Rosinger, Mike Hoa Nguyen, OiYan Poon.

Inequality related to standardized tests in college admissions has long been a subject of discussion; less is known about inequality in non-standardized components of the college application. We analyzed extracurricular activity descriptions in 5,967,920 applications submitted through the Common Application platform. Using human-crafted keyword dictionaries combined with text-as-data (natural language processing) methods, we found that White, Asian American, high-SES, and private school students reported substantially more activities, more activities with top-level leadership roles, and more activities with distinctive accomplishments (e.g., honors, awards). Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and low-income students reported a similar proportion of activities with top-level leadership positions as other groups, although the absolute number was lower. Gaps also lessened for honors/awards when examining proportions, versus absolute number. Disparities decreased further when accounting for other applicant demographics, school fixed effects, and standardized test scores. However, salient differences related to race and class remain. Findings do not support a return to required standardized testing, nor do they necessarily support ending consideration of activities in admissions. We discuss reducing the number of activities that students report and increasing training for admissions staff as measures to strengthen holistic review.

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Stacey L. Brockman, Jasmina Camo-Biogradlija, Alyssa Ratledge, Rebekah O’Donoghue, Micah Y. Baum, Brian Jacob.

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.

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Meghan McCormick, Mirjana Pralica, JoAnn Hsueh, Christina Weiland, Amanda Weissman, Samantha Xia, Anna Shapiro, Cullen MacDowell, Samuel Maves, Anne Taylor, Jason Sachs.

This study leverages six years of public prekindergarten (PreK) and kindergarten data (N = 22,469) from the Boston Public Schools (BPS) to examine enrollment in BPS PreK from 2012–2017 for students from different racial/ethnic, socioeconomic, and linguistic groups. The largest differences in enrollment emerged with respect to race and ethnicity—and for enrollment in programs in higher-quality schools (defined as schools scoring in the top quartile on third grade standardized tests)—with disparities increasing over time. Although there were no differences across groups in proximity to BPS PreK programs in general, Black students lived about a quarter of a mile further than their White peers from the nearest program in a higher-quality school, with gaps widening over time. Closer proximity was associated with a higher likelihood of enrollment in a program in a higher-quality school. Implications for future research and policy are discussed.

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