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Access and admissions
In recognition of the complexity of the college and financial aid application process, and in response to insufficient access to family or school-based counseling among economically-disadvantaged populations, investments at the local, state, and federal level have expanded students’ access to college and financial aid advising. Experimental and quasi-experimental studies of these programs demonstrate that they can generate substantial improvements in the rate at which low-income students enroll and persist in college. While these programs are successful at the level of individual communities, the individualized, in-person college advising model faces numerous barriers to scale. In this paper, we report early results from an RCT of CollegePoint, an innovative, national college advising initiative that pursues a technology-enabled approach to provide students with sustained, intensive advising. Students assigned to CollegePoint are modestly more likely (1.5 percentage points, or 7.5 percent relative to the control) to enroll at the most selective colleges and universities (Barron’s 1 institutions), though we find no difference in enrollment patterns on other measures of college quality. We find suggestive evidence of variation in the impact of CollegePoint based on when students enrolled in the program. Students who enrolled in the spring of their junior year were 5.6 percentage points (22 percent relative to the control) more likely to enroll at one of the most selective colleges and universities in the country than students in the control group who also signed up in the spring of junior year but who were not assigned to the program.
Holzer and Baum’s recent book, ‘Making College Work: Pathways to Success for Disadvantaged Students,’ provides an excellent up-to-date review of higher education. My review first summarizes its key themes: 1) who gains from college and why? 2) mismatch and the need for more structure; 3) problems with remediation; 4) financial barriers and 5) the promise of comprehensive support. I then critique the book’s proposed solutions using some of my own qualitative and quantitative data. Some recommendations are worth considering, while others are too expensive or unlikely to make a meaningful difference without addressing the underlying lack of preparedness and motivation of college students. I argue that making mandatory some existing services, such as application assistance and advice, proactive tutoring and advising, and greater career transition support, has the most immediate potential.
Research suggests that earning college credits in high school increases the likelihood of postsecondary progress and graduation. In this study, we measure the impact of dual enrollment in high school and college courses through the College Now (CN) program on college enrollment for students in New York City. We use a regression discontinuity design (RDD) that estimates the causal local average effect of the treatment — eligibility for dual enrollment in college classes while in high school — on college enrollment. We find that being eligible for CN leads to a 7% point increase in the likelihood of college enrollment and an 8.6% point increase in the likelihood of enrollment in a four-year college. Students who were eligible for CN and enrolled in CN were 20% points more likely to enroll in college.
Do nudge interventions that have generated positive impacts at a local level maintain efficacy when scaled state or nationwide? What specific mechanisms explain the positive impacts of promising smaller-scale nudges? We investigate, through two randomized controlled trials, the impact of a national and state-level campaign to encourage students to apply for financial aid for college. The campaigns collectively reached over 800,000 students, with multiple treatment arms to investigate different potential mechanisms. We find no impacts on financial aid receipt or college enrollment overall or for any student subgroups. We find no evidence that different approaches to message framing, delivery, or timing, or access to one-on-one advising affected campaign efficacy. We discuss why nudge strategies that work locally may be hard to scale effectively.
In this paper we investigate the impact of a statewide program aimed at better aligning K-12 to higher education and improving college readiness. We replicate an earlier study focused on the effects of this program at one campus by employing detailed administrative data on the census of California students that enroll at all twenty-three campuses of the California State University (CSU) system. We evaluate whether the program has reduced remediation rates at CSU statewide and investigate whether program effects differ by student background. We find that participation in the Early Assessment Program reduces the average student’s probability of needing remediation at California State University by about 2-3 percentage points overall. Investigating heterogeneous treatment effects, we find the program effects are largely concentrated among students at the margin of remediation risk.
This paper uses Advanced Placement (AP) exams to examine how receiving college credit in high school alters students’ subsequent human capital investment. Using data from one large state, I link high school students to postsecondary transcripts from in-state, public institutions and estimate causal impacts using a regression discontinuity that compares students with essentially identical AP performance but who receive different offers of college credit. I find that female students who earn credit from STEM exams take higher-level STEM courses, significantly increasing their depth of study, with no observed impacts for males. As a result, the male-female gap in STEM courses taken shrinks by roughly one-third to two-thirds, depending on the outcome studied. Earning non-STEM AP credit increases overall coursework in non-STEM courses and increases the breadth of study across departments. Early credit policies help assist colleges to produce graduates whose skills aligns with commonly cited social or economic priorities, such as developing STEM graduates with stronger skills, particularly among traditionally underrepresented groups.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill allows service members to transfer generous education benefits to a dependent. We run a large-scale experiment to test whether active choice framing impacts US Army service members’ decision to transfer benefits. Individuals who received email messages framing GI Bill use as an active choice between own use and transfer to a family member are more likely to pursue information about the benefit than individuals receiving outreach that does not frame the decision as an active choice. While we find no overall effect of framing on transfer, active choice increases transfer among service members with graduate degrees.
Student loan borrowing for higher education has emerged as a top policy concern. Policy makers at the institutional, state, and federal levels have pursued a variety of strategies to inform students about loan origination processes and how much a student has cumulatively borrowed, and to provide students with greater access to loan counseling. We conducted an experiment to evaluate the impact of an outreach campaign that prompted loan applicants at a large community college to make informed and active borrowing decisions and that offered them access to remote, one-onone assistance from a loan counselor. The intervention led students to reduce their unsubsidized loan borrowing by 7 percent, resulted in worse academic performance, and increased the likelihood of loan default during the three years after the intervention occurred. Our results suggest policy makers and higher education leaders should carefully examine the potential unintended consequences of efforts to reduce student borrowing, particularly in light of growing evidence regarding the counter-intuitive positive relationship between reduced borrowing levels and worse student academic and financial outcomes.
In this paper we estimate the impacts of the “pathways” chosen by community college students—in terms of desired credentials and fields of study, as well as other choices and outcomes along the paths—on the attainment of credentials with labor market value. We focus on the extent to which there are recorded changes in students’ choices over time, whether students make choices informed by their chances of success and by labor market value of credentials, and the impacts of choices on outcomes. We find that several characteristics of chosen pathways, such as field of study and desired credential as well as early “momentum,” affect outcomes. Student choices of pathways are not always driven by information about later chances of success, in terms of probabilities of completing programs and attaining strong earnings. Students also change pathways quite frequently, making it harder to accumulate the credits needed in their fields. Attainment of credentials with greater market value could thus likely be improved by appropriate guidance and supports for students along the way, and perhaps by broader institutional changes as well.
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 document that standards for degree receipt may explain some of the change in graduation rates.