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Access and admissions

Kelli A. Bird, Benjamin L. Castleman, Jeffrey T. Denning, Joshua Goodman, Cait Lamberton, Kelly Ochs Rosinger.

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.

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Michal Kurlaender, Jacob Jackson, Eric Grodsky, Jessica Howell.

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.

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Oded Gurantz.

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.

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Andrew C. Barr, Kelli A. Bird, Benjamin L. Castleman.

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.

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Harry J. Holzer, Zeyu Xu.

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.

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Oded Gurantz, Jessica Howell, Mike Hurwitz, Cassandra Larson, Matea Pender, Brooke White.

The College Board sought to reduce barriers in the college application process by minimizing information aggregation costs, encouraging a broad application portfolio, and providing an impetus to start the search process. Some students were offered additional encouragements, such as text message reminders or college application fee waivers. In a randomized control trial with 785,000 low- and middle-income students in the top 50% of the PSAT and SAT distributions, we find no changes in college enrollment patterns, with the exception of a 0.02σ increase in college quality measures for African-American and Hispanic students.

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Joshua Hyman.

I conduct a statewide experiment in Michigan with nearly 50,000 high-achieving high school seniors. Treated students are mailed a letter encouraging them to consider college and providing them with the web address of a college information website. I find that very high-achieving, low-income students, and very high-achieving, minority students are the most likely to navigate to the website. Small changes to letter content affect take-up. For example, highlighting college affordability induces 18 percent more students to the website than highlighting college choice, and 37 percent more than highlighting how to apply to college. I find a statistically precise zero impact on college enrollment among all students mailed the letter. However, low-income students experience a small increase in the probability that they enroll in college, driven by increases at four-year institutions. An examination of persistence through college, while imprecise, suggests that the students induced into college by the intervention persist at a lower rate than the inframarginal student.

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Joshua Goodman, Oded Gurantz, Jonathan Smith.

Only half of SAT-takers retake the exam, with even lower retake rates among low income and underrepresented minority (URM) students. We exploit discontinuous jumps in retake probabilities at multiples of 100, driven by left-digit bias, to estimate retaking’s causal effects. Retaking substantially improves SAT scores and increases four-year college enrollment rates, particularly for low income and URM students. Eliminating disparities in retake rates could close up to 10 percent of the income-based gap and up to seven percent of the race-based gap in four-year college enrollment rates of high school graduates.

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