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Holzer and Baum’s recent book, ‘Making College Work: Pathways to Success for Disadvantaged Students,’ provides an excellent up-to-date review of higher education. My review first summarizes its key themes: 1) who gains from college and why? 2) mismatch and the need for more structure; 3) problems with remediation; 4) financial barriers and 5) the promise of comprehensive support. I then critique the book’s proposed solutions using some of my own qualitative and quantitative data. Some recommendations are worth considering, while others are too expensive or unlikely to make a meaningful difference without addressing the underlying lack of preparedness and motivation of college students. I argue that making mandatory some existing services, such as application assistance and advice, proactive tutoring and advising, and greater career transition support, has the most immediate potential.
Research suggests that earning college credits in high school increases the likelihood of postsecondary progress and graduation. In this study, we measure the impact of dual enrollment in high school and college courses through the College Now (CN) program on college enrollment for students in New York City. We use a regression discontinuity design (RDD) that estimates the causal local average effect of the treatment — eligibility for dual enrollment in college classes while in high school — on college enrollment. We find that being eligible for CN leads to a 7% point increase in the likelihood of college enrollment and an 8.6% point increase in the likelihood of enrollment in a four-year college. Students who were eligible for CN and enrolled in CN were 20% points more likely to enroll in college.
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.
In a flipped classroom, an increasingly popular pedagogical model, students view a video lecture at home and work on exercises with the instructor during class time. Advocates of the flipped classroom claim the practice not only improves student achievement, but also ameliorates the achievement gap. We conduct a randomized controlled trial at West Point and find that the flipped classroom produced short term gains in Math and no effect in Economics, but that the flipped model broadened the achievement gap: effects are driven by white, male, and higher achieving students. We find no long term average effects on student learning, but the widened achievement gap persists. Our findings demonstrate feasibility for the flipped classroom to induce short term gains in student learning; however, the exacerbation of the achievement gap, the effect fade-out, and the null effects in Economics suggest that educators should exercise caution when considering the model.
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.
Policymakers are increasingly including early-career earnings data in consumer-facing college search tools to help students and families make more informed post-secondary education decisions. We offer new evidence on the degree to which existing college-specific earnings data equips consumers with useful information by documenting the level of selection bias in the earnings metrics reported in the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard. Given growing interest in reporting earnings by college and major, we focus on the degree to which earnings differences across four-year colleges and universities can be explained by differences in major composition across institutions. We estimate that more than three-quarters of the variation in median earnings across institutions is explained by observable factors, and accounting for differences in major composition explains over 30 percent of the residual variation in earnings after controlling for institutional selectivity, student composition, and local cost of living differences. We also identify large variations in the distribution of earnings within colleges; as a result, comparisons of early-career earnings can be extremely sensitive to whether the median, 25th, or 75th percentiles are presented. Taken together, our findings indicate that consumers can easily draw misleading conclusions about institutional quality when using publicly available earnings data to compare institutions.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill allows service members to transfer generous education benefits to a dependent. We run a large-scale experiment to test whether active choice framing impacts US Army service members’ decision to transfer benefits. Individuals who received email messages framing GI Bill use as an active choice between own use and transfer to a family member are more likely to pursue information about the benefit than individuals receiving outreach that does not frame the decision as an active choice. While we find no overall effect of framing on transfer, active choice increases transfer among service members with graduate degrees.
We present results from a five-year effort to design promising online and text-message interventions to improve college achievement through several distinct channels. From a sample of nearly 25,000 students across three different campuses, we find some improvement from coaching-based interventions on mental health and study time, but none of the interventions we evaluate significantly influences academic outcomes (even for those students more at risk of dropping out). We interpret the results with our survey data and a model of student effort. Students study about five to eight hours fewer each week than they plan to, though our interventions do not alter this tendency. The coaching interventions make some students realize that more effort is needed to attain good grades but, rather than working harder, they settle by adjusting grade expectations downwards. Our study time impacts are not large enough for translating into significant academic benefits. More comprehensive but expensive programs appear more promising for helping college students outside the classroom.
English-only college education in non-English speaking countries is a rapidly growing phenomenon that has been dubbed as the most important trend in higher education internationalization. Despite worldwide popularity, there is little empirical evidence about how the transition to English-only instruction affects students’ academic outcomes. Using a natural experiment at a selective university in Central Asia and a difference-in-differences strategy, we estimate the causal effect of switching to English-only instruction on students’ college outcomes. We find that the introduction of English-only instruction led to a decrease of GPAs and probability of graduation and an increase in the number of failed course credits. Although negative, the effects were short-lived. The difference-in-differences estimates and the examination of potential mechanisms suggest that at least in selective universities in non-English speaking countries, the switch to English-only instruction may affect college outcomes negatively at the time of transition but may not necessarily imply longer-run negative effects.
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.