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Access and admissions

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, Michael Hurwitz, Jonathan Smith.

Younger siblings take more advanced high school course end of year exams when their older siblings perform better in those same exams. Using a regression discontinuity and data from millions of siblings who take Advanced Placement (AP) exams, we show that younger siblings with older siblings who marginally “pass” an AP exam are more likely to take at least one AP exam, increase the total number of AP exams, and are more likely to take the same exam as their sibling. The largest impacts are found among sisters, but we do not see differential effects in coursework where females are underrepresented.

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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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Jeffrey T. Denning, Eric R. Eide, Kevin J. Mumford, Richard W. Patterson, Merrill Warnick.

College completion rates declined from the 1970s to the 1990s. We document that this trend has reversed--since the 1990s, college completion rates have increased. We investigate the reasons for the increase in college graduation rates. Collectively, student characteristics, institutional resources, and institution attended do not explain much of the change. However, we show that grade inflation can explain much of the change in graduation rates. We show that GPA is a strong predictor of graduation rates and that GPAs have been rising since the 1990s. We also find that increases in college GPAs cannot be explained by student demographics, ability, and school factors. Further, we find that at a public liberal arts college, grades have increased over time conditional on final exam performance.

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Manuel Alcaino, Jennifer. L. Jennings .

We investigate the determinants and consequences of increased school choice by analyzing a 22-year school panel matched to county-level demographic, economic, and political data.  Using an event-study design exploiting the precise timing of charter school enrollment change, we provide robust evidence that charter enrollment growth increases racial and especially socioeconomic school segregation, a finding that is partially explained by non-poor students’ transition from the private to public sector. Charter growth drives public sector incorporation, while also increasing within-public sector segregation. To assess the effects of disparate choice policies on segregation, we replicate this analysis for magnet schools, which have admissions practices intended to increase diversity, and find no evidence that magnet enrollment growth increases segregation.

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Anna Shapiro.

Much of the literature estimating disproportionality in special education identification rates has focused on socioeconomic status, race, and gender. However, recent evidence suggests that a student’s school starting age also impacts the likelihood they receive special education services, particularly in the early grades. I build on the evidence that the youngest students in a grade more likely to be diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and more likely to be placed in special education by estimating the effect of school starting age on special education identification in Michigan. I also estimate heterogeneity in this effect by student characteristics and across school districts. Using a regression discontinuity design exploiting variation in kindergarten starting age generated by a statewide kindergarten entrance age policy, I find that the youngest students in a kindergarten cohort are 40% more likely (3.3 percentage points, p<0.001) to be placed in special education than are the oldest students, and that this effect persists through eighth grade. Despite little evidence of heterogeneity by gender, race, or socioeconomic status, I find some suggestive evidence that the effect is particularly large for white boys in the early elementary grades and for black girls in the later elementary grades. I find no evidence that these effects vary across school districts. Finally, I find exploratory evidence of variation by school cohort age composition, suggesting these effects are driven moreso by relative age comparisons than absolute age developmental differences. Given the importance of special education services to the academic success of children with disabilities, these findings have implications for schools and for policymakers seeking to improve special education program provision.

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Agustina S. Paglayan.

Because primary education is often conceptualized as a pro-poor redistributive policy, a common argument is that democratization increases its provision. But primary education can also serve the goals of autocrats, including redistribution, promoting loyalty, nation-building, and/or industrialization. To examine the relationship between democratization and education provision empirically, I leverage new datasets covering 109 countries and 200 years. Difference-in-differences and interrupted time series estimates find that, on average, democratization had no or little impact on primary school enrollment rates. When unpacking this average null result, I find that, consistent with median voter theories, democratization can lead to an expansion of primary schooling, but the key condition under which it doeswhen a majority lacked access to primary schooling before democratizationrarely holds. Around the world, state-controlled primary schooling emerged a century before democratization, and in three-fourths of countries that democratized, a majority already had access to primary education before democratization.

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Kelli A. Bird, Benjamin L. Castleman, Brett Fischer, Benjamin T. Skinner.

Tens of millions of Americans have lost their jobs in the wake of the COVID-19 health and economic crisis, and a sizable share of these job losses may be permanent. Unemployment rates are particularly high among adults without a college degree. Recent state policy efforts have focused on increasing re-enrollment and credentialing among adults with some college but no degree (SCND); these efforts are likely to accelerate given the COVID-19 disruptions to the U.S. economy. Yet little is actually known about the background characteristics, academic experiences, or labor market trajectories of this population. Using data from the Virginia Community College System (VCCS), we provide the first detailed profile on the academic, employment, and earnings trajectories of the SCND population, and how these compare on key measures to VCCS graduates. We also develop a framework for prioritizing which segments of the SCND population states might target for re-enrollment and completion interventions. This framework may be particularly useful to states that need to fill critical workforce shortages in healthcare and other sectors or re-train their workforce in the wake of mass unemployment and economic disruption stemming from the COVID-19 crisis.

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Jonathan Smith, Joshua Goodman, Michael Hurwitz.

We provide the first estimated economic impacts of students’ access to an entire sector of public higher education in the U.S. Approximately half of Georgia high school graduates who enroll in college do so in the state’s public four-year sector, which requires minimum SAT scores for admission. Regression discontinuity estimates show enrollment in public four-year institutions boosts students’ household income around age 30 by 20 percent, and has even larger impacts for those from low income high schools. Access to this sector has little clear impact on student loan balances or other measures of financial health. For the marginal student, enrollment in such institutions has large private returns even in the short run and positive returns to state budgets in the long run.

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