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Post-secondary education

Christian Fischer, Rachel Baker, Qiujie Li, Gabe Avakian Orona, Mark Warschauer.

Online courses provide flexible learning opportunities, but research suggests that students may learn less and persist at lower rates compared to face-to-face settings. However, few research studies have investigated more distal effects of online education. In this study we analyzed six years of institutional data for three cohorts of students in thirteen large majors (N=10,572) at a public research university to examine distal effects of students’ online course participation. Using online course offering as an instrumental variable for online course taking, we find that online course taking of major-required courses leads to higher likelihood of successful four-year graduation and slightly accelerated time-to-degree. These results suggest that offering online course-taking opportunities may help students to more efficiently graduate college.

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Christa Deneault.

Barriers to accessing financial aid may keep students from matriculating to college. To test whether FAFSA completion is one of these barriers, I utilize a natural experiment brought about by a Louisiana mandate for seniors to file the FAFSA upon graduation from high school. Exploiting pre-treatment FAFSA completion rates as a treatment intensity in a dosage differences-in-differences specification, I find that a 10 percentage point lower pre-treatment FAFSA completion rate for a school implies a 1 percentage point larger increase in post-mandate college enrollment.

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Daniel Kreisman, Jonathan Smith, Bondi Arifin.

How do college non-completers list schooling on their resumes? The negative signal of not completing might outweigh the positive signal of attending but not persisting. If so, job-seekers might hide non-completed schooling on their resumes. To test this we match resumes from an online jobs board to administrative educational records. We find that fully one in three job-seekers who attended college but did not earn a degree omit their only post-secondary schooling from their resumes. We further show that these are not casual omissions but are strategic decisions systematically related to schooling characteristics, such as selectivity and years of enrollment. We also find evidence of lying, and show which degrees listed on resumes are most likely untrue. Lastly, we discuss implications. We show not only that this implies a commonly held assumption, that employers perfectly observe schooling, does not hold, but also that we can learn about which college experiences students believe are most valued by employers.

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Riley Acton.

In the competitive U.S. higher education market, institutions differentiate themselves to attract both students and tuition dollars. One understudied example of this differentiation is the increasing trend of "colleges" becoming "universities" by changing their names. Leveraging variation in the timing of such conversions in an event study framework, I show that becoming a university increases enrollments at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, which leads to an increase in degree production and total revenues. I further find that these effects are largest when institutions are the first in their market to convert to a university and can lead to negative spillover effects on non-converting colleges.

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Mingyu Chen.

Between 2005 and 2016, international enrollment in US higher education nearly doubled. I examine how trade shocks in education affect public universities' decision-making. I construct a shift-share instrument to exploit institutions' historical networks with different origins of international students, income growth, and exchange-rate fluctuations. Contrary to claims that US-born students are crowded out, I find that international students increase schools' funding via tuition payments, which leads to increased in-state enrollment and lower tuition prices. Schools also keep steady per-student spending and recruit more students with high math scores. Lastly, states allocate more appropriations to universities that attract fewer international students.

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Fulya Y Ersoy.

How does the perceived relationship between effort and achievement affect effort? To answer this question, I conduct a field experiment with a popular online learning platform. I exogenously manipulate students’ beliefs about returns to effort by assigning them to different information treatments, each of which provides factual information. Students update their beliefs towards the information provided and change their study effort in the same direction with the shifts in their beliefs. This result shows that students’ beliefs about the returns to effort is an important component of their human capital accumulation and low-cost information interventions can influence these beliefs.

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Stephanie Riegg Cellini.

In this paper, I review the economics literature on for-profit college education in the United States, assessing what we know about institutional behavior and student outcomes after two decades of research. The many studies reviewed here reveal some consistent patterns. It is clear that for-profits compete with institutions in other sectors, yet they behave differently than their public and nonprofit counterparts. The literature is mixed on the responsiveness of the sector to labor market demands, but any responsiveness does not appear to translate to better student outcomes. The vast majority of studies on employment and earnings gains for students in for-profits find worse outcomes for for-profit students relative to similar students in other sectors. These disappointing results suggest that additional accountability measures may be warranted to protect students and taxpayers.

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Yanqing Ding, Wei Li, Xin Li, Yinduo Wu, Jin Yang, Xiaoyang Ye.

Despite the growing evidence of informational interventions on college and major choices, we know little about how such light-touch interventions affect the gender gap in STEM majors. Linking survey data to administrative records of Chinese college applicants, we conducted a large-scale randomized experiment to examine the STEM gender gap in the major preference beliefs, application behaviors, and admissions outcomes. We find that female students are less likely to prefer, apply to, and enroll in STEM majors, particularly Engineering majors. In a school-level cluster randomized controlled trial, we provided treated students with major-specific wage information. Students’ major preferences are easily malleable that 39% of treated students updated their preferences after receiving the wage informational intervention. The wage informational intervention has no statistically significant impacts on female students’ STEM-related major applications and admissions. In contrast, those male students in rural areas who likely lack such information are largely shifted into STEM majors as a result of the intervention. We provide supporting evidence of heterogeneous major preferences for extrinsic incentives: even among those students who are most likely to be affected by the wage information (prefer high paying majors and lack the wage information), female students are less responsive to the informational intervention.

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Douglas N. Harris, Jonathan Mills.

We provide theory and evidence about how the design of college financial aid programs affects a variety of high school, college, and life outcomes. The evidence comes from an eight-year randomized trial where 2,587 high school ninth graders received a $12,000 merit-based grant offer. During high school, the program increased their college expectations and non-merit effort but had no effect on merit-related effort (e.g., GPA). After high school, the program increased graduation from two-year colleges only, apparently because of the free college design/framing in only that sector. But we see no effects on incarceration or teen pregnancy. Overall, the results suggest that free college affects student outcomes in ways similar to what advocates of free college suggest and making aid commitments early, well before college starts, increases some forms of high school effort. But we see no evidence that merit requirements are effective. Both the standard human capital model and behavioral economics are required to explain these results.

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Jeffrey T. Denning, Eric R. Eide, Kevin J. Mumford, Daniel Sabey.

After increasing in the 1970s and 1980s, time to bachelor’s degree has declined since the 1990s. We document this fact using data from three nationally representative surveys. We show that this pattern is occurring across school types and for all student types. Using administrative student records from 11 large universities, we confirm the finding and show that it is robust to alternative sample definitions. We discuss what might explain the decline in time to bachelor’s degree by considering trends in student preparation, state funding, student enrollment, study time, and student employment during college.

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