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Access and admissions
Using data from nearly 1.2 million Black SAT takers, we estimate the impacts of initially enrolling in an Historically Black College and University (HBCU) on educational, economic, and financial outcomes. We control for the college application portfolio and compare students with similar portfolios and levels of interest in HBCUs and non-HBCUs who ultimately make divergent enrollment decisions - often enrolling in a four-year HBCU in lieu of a two-year college or no college. We find that students initially enrolling in HBCUs are 14.6 percentage points more likely to earn a BA degree and have 5 percent higher household income around age 30 than those who do not enroll in an HBCU. Initially enrolling in an HBCU also leads to $12,000 more in outstanding student loans around age 30. We find that some of these results are driven by an increased likelihood of completing a degree from relatively broad-access HBCUs and also relatively high-earning majors (e.g., STEM). We also explore new outcomes, such as credit scores, mortgages, bankruptcy, and neighborhood characteristics around age 30.
Career and Technical Education (CTE) has long played a substantial, though controversial, role within America’s public schools. While supporters argue that CTE may increase student engagement and prepare students for success in the workforce, detractors caution that CTE may inhibit students’ access to the rigorous academic coursework needed for college and high-status careers. As students’ time in high school is a relatively fixed resource, this paper seeks to better understand the extent to which CTE is associated with trade-offs within students’ high school curricula. Using a robust statewide longitudinal data system, this study explores the extent to which CTE may limit course taking in a wide range of subjects (including core academic subjects, electives, and Advanced Placement courses). Special attention is paid to how curricular trade-offs may occur differently among different student populations, keeping in mind the legacy of tracking as a long-employed mechanism for reducing opportunity. On average, results indicate that CTE courses do crowd out students’ enrollment in non-CTE elective areas, but that CTE does not lead to large declines in college preparatory coursetaking, though there are nuances for certain student populations. Overall, these findings counter longstanding narratives that CTE participation limits student access to college preparatory coursework.
News media plays a crucial role in the student loan policy ecosystem by influencing how policymakers and the public understand the “problem” of student loans. Prior research emphasizes the causal impact of the media on the social construction of policy issues and the lack of knowledge about the authors of news articles. Theory also suggests that it is more difficult for new information to reach people in the core of a social network given their insular relationships. Therefore, we used social network analysis to investigate the college backgrounds for authors of student loan articles published in eight prominent newspapers between 2006 and 2021. We found evidence of a stark status hierarchy among the colleges attended (e.g., over half of the authors attended an Ivy Plus or Public Flagship institution). Our findings also identified a negative relationship between that hierarchy and an innovative practice, the use of racialized language in student loan news articles. We discuss how this status hierarchy might explain current patterns of racialized language in student loan policy and the implications of this relationship for the intersection of status and novel practices.
Generally, need-based financial aid improves students’ academic outcomes. However, the largest source of need-based grant aid in the United States, the Federal Pell Grant Program (Pell), has a mixed evaluation record. We assess the minimum Pell Grant in a regression discontinuity framework, using Kentucky administrative data. We focus on whether and how year-to-year changes in aid eligibility and interactions with other sources of aid attenuate Pell’s estimated effects on post-secondary outcomes. This evaluation complements past work by assessing explanations for the null or muted impacts found in our analysis and other Pell evaluations. We also discuss the limitations of using regression discontinuity methods to evaluate Pell—or other interventions with dynamic eligibility criteria—with respect to generalizability and construct validity.
Students’ college choices can affect their chances of earning a degree, but many lack the support to navigate the opaque college application and admissions process. This paper evaluates whether guaranteeing four-year college admissions based on transparent academic standards affected community college students’ enrollment choices and graduation rates. Guaranteed admissions increased high-GPA graduates’ transfer rates to highly-selective colleges by 30 percent. Increased transfers to highly-selective colleges also accompanied higher graduation rates and lower student debt. Gains were largest for students with historically lower transfer rates. Transparent admissions standards can increase access to selective colleges at low to no cost.
This paper discusses the importance of incorporating personal assistance into interventions aimed at improving long-term education and labor market success. While existing research demonstrates the cost-effectiveness of low-touch behavioral nudges, this paper argues that the dynamic nature of human capital accumulation requires sustained habits over time. To foster better habits, social connections are critical for encouraging enduring effort and intrinsic motivation. The paper showcases examples from various stages of human capital accumulation, including early childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, in which interventions that incorporate personal assistance substantially out-perform less intensive nudges. We underscore the importance of interactive support, guidance, and motivation in facilitating significant progress and explore the challenges associated with implementing cost-effective policies to provide such assistance.
The impact of test-optional college admissions policies depends on whether applicants act strategically in disclosing test scores. We analyze individual applicants’ standardized test scores and disclosure behavior to 50 major US colleges for entry in fall 2021, when Covid-19 prompted widespread adoption of test-optional policies. Applicants withheld low scores and disclosed high scores, including seeking admissions advantages by conditioning their disclosure choices on their other academic characteristics, colleges’ selectivity and testing policy statements, and the Covid-related test access challenges of the applicants’ local peers. We find only modest differences in test disclosure strategies by applicants’ race and socioeconomic characteristics.
Complexity and uncertainty in the college application process contribute to longstanding racial and socioeconomic disparities in enrollment. We leverage a large-scale experiment that combines an early guarantee of college admission with a proactive nudge, fee waiver, and structural application simplification to test the impacts of emerging “direct admissions” policies on students’ college-going behaviors. Students in the intervention were 2.7 percentage points (or 12%) more likely to submit a college application, with larger impacts for racially minoritized, first-generation, and low-income students. Students were most responsive to automatic offers from larger, higher quality institutions on the application margin, but were not more likely to subsequently enroll. In the face of growing adoption, we show this low-cost, low-touch intervention can move the needle on important college-going behaviors but is insufficient alone to increase enrollment given other barriers to access, including the ability to pay for college.
Teacher rating scales (TRS) are often used to make service eligibility decisions for exceptional learners. Although TRS are regularly used to identify student exceptionalism either as part of an informal nomination process or through behavioral rating scales, there is little research documenting the between-teacher variance in teacher ratings or the consequences of such rater dependence. To evaluate the possible benefits or disadvantages of using TRS as part of a gifted identification process, we examined the student-, teacher-, and school-level variance in TRS controlling for student ability and achievement to determine the unique information, consistency, and potential bias in TRS. Between 10% and 25% of a students’ TRS score can be attributed to the teacher doing the rating, and between-teacher standard deviations represent an effect size of one-third to one-half standard deviation unit. Our results suggest that TRS are not easily comparable across teachers, making it impossible to set a cut score for admission into a program (or for further screening) that functions equitably across teachers.