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Elise Swanson, Tatiana Melguizo, Francisco Martorell.

This paper estimates the relationship between students’ psychosocial and academic outcomes during their first three years enrolled at public, four-year institutions. Our sample is comprised of students from low-income backgrounds who applied for a competitive scholarship and enrolled at a four-year public institution. We follow two cohorts of entering students throughout their first three years on campus. We observe their cumulative GPA and persistence decisions each semester, and have annual measures of four psychosocial outcomes: mattering to campus, sense of belonging to campus, academic self-efficacy, and social self-efficacy. We find that psychosocial outcomes are moderately predictive of academic outcomes, with sense of belonging and academic self-efficacy emerging as most predictive of both cumulative GPA and persistence.

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Elise Swanson, Joseph Kitchen, Tatiana Melguizo, Francisco Martorell.

We examine the impact of the Thompson Scholars Learning Community (TSLC), a comprehensive college transition program serving students with a variety of majors, on students’ science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)-related outcomes. We use an explanatory mixed-methods design, which prioritizes the quantitative analyses and uses qualitative analyses to contextualize and explain our quantitative findings. Overall, participating in TSLC does not make students more likely to declare a STEM major, although we do find a positive effect for students of color. TSLC students earn higher overall GPAs than their scholarship-only peers, and TSLC students majoring in STEM outperform scholarship-only STEM majors in STEM courses. Qualitative analyses suggest these results stem from the student-centered and proactive support the program provides students. Our results suggest that a disciplinarily-agnostic program can support student success in STEM, and may increase equitable representation in STEM fields.

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Plamen Nikolov, Nusrat Jimi.

Evidence on educational returns and the factors that determine the demand for schooling in developing countries is extremely scarce. We use two surveys from Tanzania to estimate both the actual and perceived schooling returns and subsequently examine what factors drive individual misperceptions regarding actual returns. Using ordinary least squares and instrumental variable methods, we find that each additional year of schooling in Tanzania increases earnings, on average, by 9 to 11 percent. We find that on average, individuals underestimate returns to schooling by 74 to 79 percent, and three factors are associated with these misperceptions: income, asset poverty, and educational attainment. Shedding light on what factors relate to individual beliefs about educational returns can inform policy on how to structure effective interventions to correct individuals' misperceptions.

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Alberto Guzman-Alvarez, Lindsay C. Page.

Verification is a federally mandated process that requires selected students to further attest that the information reported on their FAFSA is accurate and complete. In this brief, we estimate institutional costs of administrating the FAFSA verification mandate and consider variation in costs by institution type and sector. Using data from 2014, we estimate that compliance costs to institutions in that year totaled nearly $500 million with the burden falling disproportionately on public institutions and community colleges, in particular. Specifically, we estimate that 22% of an average community college’s financial aid office operating budget is devoted to verification procedures, compared to 15% at public four-year institutions. Our analysis is timely, given that rates of FAFSA verification have increased in recent years.

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Cassandra M. D. Hart, Brian Jacob, Susanna Loeb.

A common rationale for offering online courses in K-12 schools is that they allow students to take courses not offered at their schools; however, there has been little research on how online courses are used to expand curricular options when operating at scale. We assess the extent to which students and schools use online courses for this purpose by analyzing statewide, student-course level data from high school students in Florida, which has the largest virtual sector in the nation. We introduce a “novel course” framework to address this question. We define a virtual course as “novel” if it is only available to a student virtually, not face-to-face through their own home high school. We find that 7% of high school students in 2013-14 enroll in novel online courses. Novel courses were more commonly used by higher-achieving students, in rural schools, and in schools with relatively few Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate offerings.

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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, 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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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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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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