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Post-secondary education

George Bulman, Robert Fairlie.

Enrollment increased slightly at both the California State University and University of California systems in fall 2020, but the effects of the pandemic on enrollment in the California Community College system are mostly unknown and might differ substantially from the effects on 4-year colleges. This paper provides the first analysis of how the pandemic impacted enrollment patterns and the academic outcomes of community college students using administrative college-level panel data covering the universe of students in the 116-college California Community College system. We find that community college enrolment dropped precipitously in fall 2020 – the total number of enrolled students fell by 4 percent in spring 2020 and by 15 percent in fall 2020 relative to the prior year. All racial and ethnic groups experienced large enrollment decreases in spring and fall 2020, but African-American and Latinx students experienced the largest drops at 17 percent in fall 2020. Enrollment fell the most for first-year students in the community college system, basic skills courses, and fields such as engineering/industrial technology, education, interdisciplinary studies, and art. There were smaller decreases for continuing students, academic courses transferable to four-year institutions, and business and science fields. Enrollment losses were felt throughout the entire community college system, and there is no evidence that having a large online presence in prior years protected colleges from these effects. In terms of course performance, there was a larger disruption to completion rates, withdrawal rates, and grades in spring 2020 than in fall 2020. These early findings of the effects of the pandemic at community colleges, which serve higher percentages of lower-income and minority students, have implications for policy, impending budgetary pressures, and future research.

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Lois Miller, Minseon Park.

Many state governments impose tuition regulations on universities in pursuit of college affordability. How effective are these regulations? We study how universities' "sticker price'' and institutional financial aid change during and after tuition caps and freezes by leveraging temporal and geographic variation in the United States from 1990 to 2013. We find that listed tuition is lower than it would have been in the absence of the regulation by 6.3 (9.3) percentage points at four-year (two-year) colleges during the regulation. Meanwhile, the negative impact on institutional aid at four-year colleges during a tuition cap/freeze is nearly double (-11.3 percentage points) the impact on listed tuition, implying that universities adjust institutional aid in order to recoup some of their losses from the tuition cap/freeze. Effects are long-lasting at four-year institutions; two years after the regulation is lifted, tuition is 7.3 percentage points lower and institutional aid is 19.5 percentage points lower than it would have been without the regulation. Meanwhile at two-year colleges, tuition "catches up" so that by three years after the end of the regulation tuition is not statistically different from what it would have been in the absence of the regulation. Universities that are not research-intensive and universities that have a greater dependency on tuition revenue exhibit larger negative impacts on institutional aid with smaller impacts on "sticker price''. Our estimates suggest that tuition caps and freezes do not simply lower the prices that students pay for college and that the benefit of tuition regulations is unequally spread across types of universities and students.

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Dennis A. Kramer II, Christina Lamb, Lindsay C. Page.

We explore the role of defaults and choice architecture on student loan decision-making, experimentally testing the impact pre-populating either decline or accept decisions compared to an active choice, no pre-population, decision. We demonstrate that the default choice presented does influence student loan borrowing decisions. Specifically, compared to active choice, students presented within a pre-populated decline decision were almost five percent less likely to accept all packaged loans and borrowed between 4.6 and 4.8 percent less in federal educational loans. The reductions in borrowing appears to be concentrated within unsubsidized loans with those assigned to the opt-in condition borrowing 8.3 percent less in unsubsidized loans. These changes in borrowing did not induce substitution towards private or Parent PLUS loans nor did they negatively impact enrollment, academic performance, or on-campus work outcomes in the same academic year.

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Jennifer Graves, Zoe Kuehn.

Using individual data from PIAAC and aggregate data on GDP and unemployment for the US, Europe, and Spain, we test how macroeconomic conditions experienced at age eighteen affect the following decisions in post-secondary and tertiary education: i) enrollment ii) dropping-out, iii) type of degree completed, iv) area of specialization, and v) time-to-degree. We also analyze how the effects differ by gender and parental background. Our findings are different for each of these geographies, which shows that the impacts of macroeconomic conditions on higher education decisions depend on context, such as labor markets and education systems. By analyzing various components of higher education together, we are able to obtain a clearer picture of how potential mechanisms linked to lower opportunity costs of education and reduced ability to pay during economic downturns interact to determine student selection.

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Matthew Baird, Robert Bozick, Melanie Zaber.

Occupational credentials provide an additional—and, at times, alternative—path other than traditional academic degrees for individuals to increase productivity and demonstrate their abilities and qualifications to employers. These credentials take the form of licenses and certifications. Although a critical part of the workforce landscape, the literature on the returns to credentials is inadequate, with prior research having limited causal identification, typically relying on OLS regressions which do not sufficiently control for selection. Using questions that identify credential receipt from the 2015 and 2016 Current Population Surveys, we construct an instrumental variable of local peer influence using the within-labor market credential rate of individuals sharing the same sociodemographic characteristics, while controlling for the same group’s average wages and a suite of demographic and geographic controls. We use this instrument in a marginal treatment effects estimator, which allows for estimation of the average treatment effect and determines the direction of selection, and we estimate the effects of credentials on labor market outcomes. We find large, meaningful returns in the form of increased employment, an effect which is concentrated primarily among women. The effect of having a credential on log wages is higher for those in the sub-baccalaureate labor market, suggesting the potential role of occupational credentials as an alternative path to marketable human capital and a signal of skills in the absence of a bachelor’s degree.

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James D. Paul, Albert Cheng, Jay P. Greene, Josh B. McGee.

Employers may favor applicants who played college sports if athletics participation contributes to leadership, conscientiousness, discipline, and other traits that are desirable for labor-market productivity. We conduct a resume audit to estimate the causal effect of listing collegiate athletics on employer callbacks and test for subgroup effects by ethnicity, gender, and sport type. We applied to more than 450 jobs on a large, well-known job board. For each job listing we submitted two fictitious resumes, one of which was randomly assigned to include collegiate varsity athletics. Overall, listing a college sport does not produce a statistically significant change in the likelihood of receiving a callback or interview request. However, among non-white applicants, athletes are 3.2 percentage points less likely to receive an interview request (p = .04) relative to non-athletes. We find no statistically significant differences among males or females.

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Vivian C. Wong, Kylie L. Anglin, Peter M. Steiner.

Recent interest to promote and support replication efforts assume that there is well-established methodological guidance for designing and implementing these studies. However, no such consensus exists in the methodology literature. This article addresses these challenges by describing design-based approaches for planning systematic replication studies. Our general approach is derived from the Causal Replication Framework (CRF), which formalizes the assumptions under which replication success can be expected. The assumptions may be understood broadly as replication design requirements and individual study design requirements. Replication failure occurs when one or more CRF assumptions are violated. In design-based approaches to replication, CRF assumptions are systematically tested to evaluate the replicability of effects, as well as to identify sources of effect variation when replication failure is observed. In direct replication designs, replication failure is evidence of bias or incorrect reporting in individual study estimates, while in conceptual replication designs, replication failure occurs because of effect variation due to differences in treatments, outcomes, settings, and participant characteristics. The paper demonstrates how multiple research designs may be combined in systematic replication studies, as well as how diagnostic measures may be used to assess the extent to which CRF assumptions are met in field settings.    

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Matt S. Giani, Allison Martin.

Developmental education, in which college students deemed unprepared for college-level coursework enroll in non-credit bearing courses, is widespread in American higher education. The current study evaluates the effect of mobile app courseware on the college outcomes of developmental education students, using a research design which randomly assigned course sections to receive access to the apps or not. The results show that access to the apps significantly improved student performance in developmental education outcomes, marginally improved medium-term college persistence and performance, but did not effect credential attainment in the study timeframe. Despite a number of barriers to implementation, the results suggest the intervention has the potential to improve the short-term outcomes of developmental education students in addition to being low-cost and scalable.

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Stephanie Riegg Cellini, Hernando Grueso.

We draw on administrative data from the country of Colombia to assess differences in student learning in online and traditional on-campus college programs. The Colombian context is uniquely suited to study this topic, as students take an exit examination at the end of their studies. We can therefore directly compare performance on the exit exam for students in online and on-campus programs both across and within institutions, degrees, and majors. Using inverse probability weighting methods based on a rich set of background characteristics coupled with institution-degree-major fixed effects, our results suggest that bachelor’s degree students in online programs perform worse on nearly all test score measures (including math, reading, writing, and English) relative to their counterparts in on-campus programs. Results for shorter technical certificates are more mixed.  While online students perform significantly worse than on-campus students on exit exams in private institutions, they perform better in SENA—the main public vocational institution in the country.

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Rachel Baker, Elizabeth Friedmann, Michal Kurlaender.

The transfer between two-year and four-year colleges is a critical path to baccalaureate attainment. Yet, students face a number of barriers in transfer pathways, including a lack of coherent coordination and articulation between their community colleges and four-year institutions, resulting in excess units and increased time to degree. In this paper we evaluate the impact of California’s Student Transfer Achievement Reform Act, which aimed to create a more seamless pathway between the Community Colleges and the California State University. We investigate whether the reform effort met its intended goal of improving baccalaureate receipt, and greater efficiency in earning these degrees, among community college transfer students. We tease out plausibly causal effects of the policy by leveraging the exogenous variation in the timing of the implementation of the reform in different campuses and fields of study. We find that this reform effort has led to significant reductions in time to baccalaureate receipt among community college transfers and reduced total unit accumulation. These positive effects were shared across all student subgroups.

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