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In 2006, the federal government effectively uncapped student borrowing for graduate programs with the introduction of the Graduate PLUS loan program. Access to additional federal loans increased graduate students’ borrowing and shifted the composition of their loans from private to federal debt. However, the increase in borrowing limits did not improve access to existing programs overall or for underrepresented groups. Nor did access to additional loan aid result in significant increase in constrained students’ persistence or degree receipt. We document that among programs in which a larger share of graduate students had exhausted their annual federal loan eligibility before the policy change—and thus were more exposed to the expansion in access to credit—federal borrowing and prices increased.
The media discourse on student loans plays a significant role in the way that policy actors conceptualize challenges and potential solutions related to student debt. This study examines the racialized language in student loan news articles published in eight major news outlets between 2006 and 2021. We found that 18% of articles use any racialized language, though use has accelerated since 2018. This increase appears to be driven by terms that denote groups of people instead of structural problems, with 8% of articles mentioning “Black” but less than 1% mentioning “racism.” These findings emphasize the importance of treating the media as a policy actor capable of shaping the salience of racialization in discussions about student loans.
We evaluate the effects of the 2020 student debt moratorium that paused payments for student loan borrowers. Using administrative credit panel data, we show that the payment pause led to a sharp drop in student loan payments and delinquencies for borrowers subject to the debt moratorium, as well as an increase in credit scores. We find a large stimulus effect, as borrowers substitute increased private debt for paused public debt. Comparing borrowers whose loans were frozen with borrowers whose loans were not frozen due to differences in whether the government owned the loans, we show that borrowers used the new liquidity to increase borrowing on credit cards, mortgages, and auto loans rather than avoid delinquencies. The effects are concentrated among borrowers without prior delinquencies, who saw no change in credit scores, and we see little effects following student loan forgiveness announcements. The results highlight an important complementarity between liquidity and credit, as liquidity increases the demand for credit even as the supply of credit is fixed.
Expected earnings matter for college major choices, and majors differ in both their average earnings and the age profile of their earnings. We show that students' family background is strongly related to the earnings paths of the major they choose. Students with more educated parents, especially those who have graduate degrees, choose majors with lower early-career earnings but much faster earnings growth. They are also less likely to choose safe majors with little early-career earnings or unemployment downside. Parental income has a weaker relationship with major choice and operates mostly through the type of institution the student attends.
Temporary college closures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic created an exodus of students from college towns just as the decennial census count was getting underway. We use aggregate cellular mobility data to evaluate if this population movement affected the distributional accuracy of the 2020 Census. Based on the outflow of devices in late March 2020, we estimate that counties with a college were undercounted by two percent, likely affecting Congressional apportionment. For college towns, student populations can impact government funding allocations, policy program decisions, and planning for infrastructure, public health, and more. The Census Bureau is allowing governmental entities to request count reviews through June 2023. Colleges should cooperate with state and local government efforts to ensure an accurate count.
We estimate the societal costs associated with corequisite and traditional pre-requisite English developmental education and compare them to societal benefits. Our context is the randomized controlled trial conducted by Miller et al. (2022) that estimated the effects of three different approaches to English corequisites implemented in 5 Texas community colleges. The main drivers of differential costs across pathways and colleges are the number of credit and contact hours in each pathway, class sizes, and the type of faculty used to teach courses (adjunct or full-time). Corequisites are less expensive than pre-requisite pathways in two colleges, they are more expensive yet roughly similar in two other colleges, and they are much more expensive in one college. Miller et al. (2022) find that corequisites induced more students to pass the required college-level English course in all colleges, but do not find that they impacted persistence in college. Considering the enormous societal benefit of a college education, corequisites are most likely the preferred policy from a societal point of view even when they are more expensive to implement and given that they only have a small impact on the likelihood of completing college. From students’ point of view, corequisites are always preferred because they require less tuition and have a higher likelihood of success.
Graduating from college into a recession is associated with earnings losses, but less is known about how these effects vary across colleges. Using restricted-use data from the National Survey of College Graduates, we study how college quality influences the effects of graduating into worse economic conditions in the context of the Great Recession. We find that earnings losses are concentrated among graduates from relatively high-quality colleges. Key mechanisms include substitution out of the labor force and into graduate school, decreased graduate degree completion, and differences in the economic stability of fields of study between graduates of high- and low-quality colleges.
College-educated workers in jobs unrelated to their degree generally receive lower wages compared to well-matched workers. Our analysis of data from the National Survey of College Graduates shows that although the rate of this mismatch declined only slightly (19% to 17%), the wage penalty increased by 51% between 1993 and 2019. Changes in the composition of field of study over time, as well as declining returns to “excess” education above what is required for the occupation both help to explain the increasing penalty, especially for women. Mismatch has become more closely associated with lower-return occupations for men but not women.
Broadband is not equally accessible among students despite its increasing importance to education. We investigate the relationship between broadband and housing policy by joining two measures of broadband access with Depression-era redlining maps that classified neighborhoods based in part on racist and classist beliefs. We find that despite internet service provider selfreports of similar technological availability, broadband access generally decreases in tandem with historic neighborhood classification, with further heterogeneity by race/ethnicity and income. Our findings demonstrate how past federally-developed housing policies connect to the digital divide and should be considered in educational policies that require broadband for success.
Inequality related to standardized tests in college admissions has long been a subject of discussion; less is known about inequality in non-standardized components of the college application. We analyzed extracurricular activity descriptions in 5,967,920 applications submitted through the Common Application platform. Using human-crafted keyword dictionaries combined with text-as-data (natural language processing) methods, we found that White, Asian American, high-SES, and private school students reported substantially more activities, more activities with top-level leadership roles, and more activities with distinctive accomplishments (e.g., honors, awards). Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and low-income students reported a similar proportion of activities with top-level leadership positions as other groups, although the absolute number was lower. Gaps also lessened for honors/awards when examining proportions, versus absolute number. Disparities decreased further when accounting for other applicant demographics, school fixed effects, and standardized test scores. However, salient differences related to race and class remain. Findings do not support a return to required standardized testing, nor do they necessarily support ending consideration of activities in admissions. We discuss reducing the number of activities that students report and increasing training for admissions staff as measures to strengthen holistic review.