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In this paper we estimate the impacts of the “pathways” chosen by community college students—in terms of desired credentials and fields of study, as well as other choices and outcomes along the paths—on the attainment of credentials with labor market value. We focus on the extent to which there are recorded changes in students’ choices over time, whether students make choices informed by their chances of success and by labor market value of credentials, and the impacts of choices on outcomes. We find that several characteristics of chosen pathways, such as field of study and desired credential as well as early “momentum,” affect outcomes. Student choices of pathways are not always driven by information about later chances of success, in terms of probabilities of completing programs and attaining strong earnings. Students also change pathways quite frequently, making it harder to accumulate the credits needed in their fields. Attainment of credentials with greater market value could thus likely be improved by appropriate guidance and supports for students along the way, and perhaps by broader institutional changes as well.
Citation: Harry Holzer, Zeyu Xu (2019). Community College Pathways for Disadvantaged Students . CALDER Working Paper No. 218-0519
Career academies serve an increasingly wide range of students. This paper examines the contemporary profile of students entering career academies in a large, diverse school district and estimates causal effects of participation in one of the district’s well-regarded academies on a range of high school and college outcomes. Exploiting the lottery-based admissions process of this technology-focused academy, we find that academy enrollment increases the likelihood of high school graduation by about 8 percentage points and boosts rates of college enrollment for males but not females. Analysis of intermediate outcomes suggests that effects on attendance and industry-relevant certification at least partially mediate the overall high school graduation effect.
JEL Codes: I21, I25
WP 176 was revised in August 2018. It was originally released in January 2017.
Citation: Steven Hemelt, Matthew Lenard, Colleen Paeplow (2018). Building Bridges to Life after High School: Contemporary Career Academies and Student Outcomes (Update). CALDER Working Paper No. 176
We use statewide administrative data from Missouri to examine the role of high schools in explaining student sorting to colleges and majors at 4-year public universities. We develop a “preparation and persistence index” (PPI) for each university-by-major cell in the Missouri system that captures dimensions of selectivity and rigor and allows for a detailed investigation of sorting. Our analysis shows that students’ high schools predict the quality of the initial university, as measured by PPI, conditional on their own academic preparation, and that students from lower-SES high schools systematically enroll at lower-PPI universities. However, high schools offer little explanatory power over major placements within universities and correspondingly, there are not meaningful differences in the index-based quality of these placements by high-school SES.
WP 165 was revised in April 2018. It was originally released August 2016.
Citation: Rajeev Darolia, Cory Koedel (2018). High Schools and Students’ Initial Colleges and Majors. CALDER Working Paper No. 165
We use longitudinal data on all high school students in Washington State, including postsecondary education and workforce outcomes, to investigate predictors of intermediate and postsecondary outcomes for students with disabilities. We pay particular attention to career and technical education (CTE) enrollment and the extent of inclusion in general education classrooms, as prior research suggests these factors may be particularly important in influencing the outcomes of students with disabilities. We estimate models that compare students with other students within the same school district, who are receiving special education services for the same disability, and have similar baseline measures of academic performance and other demographic information. We find generally weak relationships between CTE enrollment in any particular grade and intermediate and postsecondary outcomes for students with disabilities, though we replicate earlier findings that students with disabilities who are enrolled in a “concentration” of CTE courses have higher rates of employment after graduation than students with disabilities who are similar in other observable ways but are enrolled in fewer CTE courses. We also find consistently strong evidence that students with disabilities who spend more time in general education classrooms experience better outcomes—fewer absences, higher academic performance, higher rates of grade progression and on-time graduation, and higher rates of college attendance and employment—than students with disabilities who are similar in other observable ways but spend less time in general education classrooms.
Citation: Roddy Theobald, Dan Goldhaber, Trevor Gratz, Kristian Holden (2017). Career and Technical Education, Inclusion, and Postsecondary Outcomes for Students With Disabilities. CALDER Working Paper No. 177
The purpose of this paper is to assess the effects of this increase in the mandated minimum number of math courses. This assessment entails two separate questions. One is whether the policy affected actual course-taking among high school students. In exploring this question, we are attentive to the likelihood that the new standard might have a bigger effect on some groups of students than on others. Another question is whether any such changes in high school course-taking, together with the threat of being denied admission, affected college enrollment patterns or students’ choices or performance once enrolled.
Our findings fall into three groups. First, the evidence is consistent with the expectation that the increased requirements would influence the number of high school math courses taken by at least some students. Throughout our analysis we characterize students by their math aptitude as measured by their performance on the required 8th grade math end of grade test, with performance divided into deciles from low to high. Many students, particularly those at the higher deciles, were already taking four math courses by the time the minimum number was increased, so the new requirement presumably had no direct effect on them. But in eight of the 10 deciles we observed greater-than-expected increases in the share of students who, using the proxy we had (whether a student had taken Algebra II by 11th grade), were in a position to meet the new four-course standard. We cannot prove that these increases were due to the policy, but it is reasonable to think that at least most of them were.
Second are findings related to whether the increase in math courses affected whether students enrolled in one of the state’s public university campuses and, if so, where. Because the increases in math courses were greatest for students with 8th grade math scores in the middle deciles, one might have expected that the branch campuses whose students traditionally come from those deciles would have experienced the biggest increases in enrollment due to the changes in math course taking in high school. Surprisingly, we did not find that. Instead, we find increases in predicted enrollment due to changes in math course taking across all campuses, distributed differently across math achievement deciles. Each branch experienced increases in predicted enrollment, but those increases tended to be for students in the deciles that were already most common at those branches. For the branches that have traditionally drawn from deciles below the median, the newly stimulated enrollments came from those deciles. For the two branches with the highest shares of students from the top deciles before the policy change, the new policy stimulated new enrollment, and it was mainly in those same top deciles. Despite the general tendency before the change for top-decile students to have taken four math courses, many top decile students apparently had not been doing so, especially in school districts that had not pushed such students to do so in the past. Once the policy change was enacted, such districts beefed up their math pathways, causing more top students to take more math. Conceivably, the new requirement caused these top students to consider attending the leading research universities at Chapel Hill or NC State instead of one of the branches closer to their homes.
The third set of findings relate to whether the minimum course requirement affected the behavior of students once they enrolled in one of the branches. Here the results are less broad-based than for the other analyses. We find some evidence that the policy change increased the likelihood that high decile students would major in a STEM field, but reduced the likelihood of low decile students of doing so. Further, we find that the program raised the GPA of students in deciles 8 and 9, but had at most limited effects on four-year graduation rates.
Citation: Charles Clotfelter, Helen Ladd (2016). Raising the Bar for College Admission: North Carolina’s Increase in Minimum Math Course Requirements. CALDER Working Paper No. 163
Online courses at the college level are growing in popularity, and nearly all community colleges offer online courses (Allen & Seaman, 2015). What is the effect of the expanded availability of online curricula on persistence in the field and towards a degree? We use a model of self-selection to estimate the effect of taking an online course, using region and time variation in Internet service as a source of identifying variation. Our method, as opposed to standard experimental methods, allows us to consider the effect among students who actually choose to take such courses. For the average person, taking an online course has a negative effect on the probability of taking another course in the same field and on the probability of earning a degree. The negative effect on graduation for students who choose to take an online course is stronger than the negative effect for the average student. Community colleges must balance these results against the attractive features of online courses, and institutions may want to consider actively targeting online courses toward those most likely to do well in them.
Citation: Nick Huntington-Klein, James Cowan, Dan Goldhaber (2015). Selection into Online Community College Courses and Their Effects on Persistence. CALDER Working Paper No. 131
Students are typically given a large amount of freedom to choose the level of “curricular dispersion:” the tight focus or lack thereof in the courses they elect to take while in college. There is little evidence about what predicts students’ curricular dispersion, whether it affects later college or labor force outcomes, or, in fact, how to measure curricular dispersion. In this paper we develop a measure of curricular dispersion and use data from Washington State to explore its predictors and associated outcomes. We find that prior dispersion predicts future dispersion but not subsequent changes in college major. We report mixed findings on the associations between curricular dispersion and overall college GPA, the probability of graduation, and early career wages.
Citation: Dan Goldhaber, James Cowan, Mark C. Long, Nick Huntington-Klein (2015). College Curricular Dispersion: More Well Rounded or Less Well Trained?. CALDER Working Paper No. 130
I investigate the determinants of high school completion and college attendance, the likelihood of taking science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) courses in the first year of college and the probability of earning a degree in a STEM field. The focus is on women and minorities, who tend to be underrepresented in STEM fields. Tracking four cohorts of students throughout Florida, I find that large differences in math achievement across racial lines exist as early as elementary school and persist through high school. These achievement differences lead to higher drop-out rates in high school and a reduced probability of attending college for black students. However, conditional on immediately attending a four-year college after high school, black and Hispanic students are more likely than whites to take STEM courses during their first year in college. Increased exposure to Hispanic math and science teachers in middle and high school tends to increase the likelihood that Hispanic students take STEM courses during their first year in college, though pairing black students and black math/science teachers does not have the same positive effect. For all students, having high school math and science teachers with a degree in biology, chemistry or math (as opposed to education) is associated with a higher likelihood of taking STEM courses as college freshmen. When pre-college differences in income and math achievement are taken into account, black and Hispanic students are at least as likely as white students to successfully complete a STEM major. Racial/ethnic pairing of students and college instructors in first-year STEM courses does not increase the likelihood of majoring in a STEM field. In contrast to underrepresented minorities, women perform nearly as well as men on math achievement tests through high school and are more likely to finish high school and attend college than males. Among college students, however, women are less likely than men to take courses in the physical sciences in their first year and are less likely to earn a degree in physics or engineering, even after adjusting for pre-college test scores. Gender matching of students and math/science teachers in middle and high school tends to increase the likelihood that female college freshman will take at least one STEM course, However, conditional on first-year coursework, neither gender matching at the secondary or college levels appears to have any effect on the likelihood of completing a major in a STEM field.
In this paper we examine a range of postsecondary education and labor market outcomes, with a particular focus on minorities and/or disadvantaged workers. We use administrative data from the state of Florida, where postsecondary student records have been linked to UI earnings data and also to secondary education records. Our main findings can be summarized as follows: 1) Gaps in secondary school achievement can account for a large portion of the variation in postsecondary attainment and labor market outcomes between the disadvantaged and other students, but meaningful gaps also exist within achievement groups, and 2) Earnings of the disadvantaged are hurt by low completion rates in postsecondary programs, poor performance during college, and not choosing high-earning fields. In particular, significant labor market premia can be earned in a variety of more technical certificate and Associate (AA) programs, even for those with weak earlier academic performance, but instead many disadvantaged (and other) students choose general humanities programs at the AA (and even the Bachelor’s or BA) level with low completion rates and low compensation afterwards. A range of policies and practices might be used to improve student choices as well as their completion rates and earnings.
Citation: Benjamin Backes, Harry Holzer, Erin Dunlop Velez (2014). Is It Worth It? Postsecondary Education and Labor Market Outcomes for the Disadvantaged. CALDER Working Paper No. 117
This paper reports results from a resume-based field experiment designed to examine employer preferences for job applicants who attended for-profit colleges. For-profit colleges have seen sharp increases in enrollment in recent years despite alternatives such as public community colleges being much cheaper. We sent almost 9,000 fictitious resumes of young job applicants who recently completed their schooling to online job postings in six occupational categories and tracked employer callback rates. We find no evidence that employers prefer applicants with resumes listing a for-profit college relative to those whose resumes list either a community college or no college at all.
Citation: Rajeev Darolia, Cory Koedel, Paco Martorell, Katie Wilson, Francisco Perez-Arce (2014). Do Employers Prefer Workers Who Attend For-Profit Colleges? Evidence from a Field Experiment. CALDER Working Paper No. 116
This paper examines how banning affirmative action in university admissions affects both overall academic achievement and the racial gap in academic achievement prior to college entry. In particular, focusing on college-bound high school students, we use a difference-in- difference methodology to analyze the impact of the end of race-based affirmative action at the University of California in 1998 on both the overall level of SAT scores and high school GPA, and the racial gap in SAT scores and high school GPA. Our primary conclusion is that academic achievement changed very little after the ban.
Citation: Kate Antonovics, Benjamin Backes (2014). The Effect of Banning Affirmative Action on Human Capital Accumulation Prior to College Entry. CALDER Working Paper No. 114
Over 40% of full time four-year college students fail to earn a bachelor’s degree within six years, and many never complete their education. This paper describes this sizeable fraction of the U.S. higher education market and estimates counterfactual predicted probabilities of degree completion, had students made different initial postsecondary enrollment choices. Using data from the NLSY97, a rich nationally representative data set, we make several observations. First, policies aimed at increasing postsecondary degree attainment by encouraging college enrollment are likely to be unproductive, given that students who are currently not enrolling in postsecondary education have very low predicted probabilities of completion, due to their low academic preparedness. This holds true for enrollment in both two-year and four-year colleges. Second, we find that students who drop-out of four-year colleges generally also have very low predicted probabilities of completion, although this varies across student groups. Finally, we conclude that had four-year college drop-outs begun their postsecondary careers at a two-year college, their predicted probabilities of postsecondary degree completion would be significantly higher. While most of this increase in degree completion comes through increased associate’s degree attainment, about a third of four-year college drop-outs would have a higher chance of bachelor’s degree completion, had they begun college at a two-year institution. While our results are only a descriptive analysis, and should not be interpreted as causal findings, until more is understood about the types of students who drop-out of college and potential reasons why, there will likely be little progress in reducing the college failure rate in the U.S.
Citation: Erin Dunlop Velez (2014). America’s College Drop-Out Epidemic: Understanding the College Drop-Out Population. CALDER Working Paper No. 109
This paper uses administrative data on schooling and earnings from Texas to estimate the effect of college quality on the distribution of earnings. We proxy for college quality using the college sector from which students graduate and focus on identifying how graduating from UT-Austin, Texas A&M or a community college affects the distribution of earnings relative to graduating from a non-flagship university in Texas. Our methodological approach uses the rich set of observable student academic ability and background characteristics in the data to adjust the earnings distributions across college sectors for the fact that college sector quality is correlated with factors that also affect earnings. Although our mean earnings estimates are similar to previous work in this area, we find evidence of substantial heterogeneity in the returns to college quality. At UT-Austin, the returns increase across the earnings distribution, while at Texas A&M they tend to decline with one’s place in the distribution. For community college graduates, the returns relative to non-flagship four-year graduates are negative across most of the distribution of earnings, but they approach zero and become positive for higher earners. Our data also allow us to estimate effects separately by race and ethnicity, and we find that historically under-represented minorities experience the highest returns in the upper tails of the earnings distribution, particularly among UT-Austin and community college graduates. While we focus on graduates, we also show our estimates are robust to examining college attendees as well as to many other changes in the sample and to the estimation strategy. Overall, these estimates provide the first direct evidence of the extent of heterogeneity in the effect of college quality on subsequent earnings, and our estimates point to the need to consider such heterogeneity in human capital models that incorporate college quality.
Citation: Rodney J. Andrews, Jing Li, Michael Lovenheim (2014). Quantile Treatment Effects of College Quality on Earnings: Evidence from Administrative Data in Texas. CALDER Working Paper No. 108
We evaluate whether there is a causal connection between changes in wages by occupation and subsequent changes in the number of college majors completed in associated fields. Using aggregate national data and individual-level data from Washington State, we find statistically significant, although modest, relationships between wages and majors. College majors are most strongly related to wages observed three years earlier, when students were college freshmen. Majors with a tight connection to particular occupations show a stronger response to wages. The overall modest relationship suggests that policies which inform students about labor market outcomes are unlikely to greatly change student behavior.
Citation: Mark Long, Dan Goldhaber, Nick Huntington-Klein (2014). Do Students’ College Major Choice Respond to Changes in Wages?. CALDER Working Paper No. 107
Since their inception in 1992, the number of charter schools has grown to more than 6,000 in 40 states, serving more than 2 million students. Various studies have examined charter schools’ impacts on test scores, and a few have begun to examine longer-term outcomes including graduation and college attendance. This paper is the first to estimate charter schools’ effects on student earnings, alongside effects on educational attainment. Using data from Chicago and Florida, we find evidence that charter high schools may have substantial positive effects on persistence in college as well as high-school graduation and college entry. In Florida, where we can link students to workforce data in adulthood, we also find evidence that charter high schools produce large positive effects on subsequent earnings.
Citation: Kevin Booker, Tim Sass, Brian Gill, Ron Zimmer (2014). Charter High Schools' Effect on Long-Term Attainment and Earnings. CALDER Working Paper No. 103
We study a popular dual enrollment program in Washington State using a new administrative database linking high school and postsecondary enrollments. Conditional on prior high school performance and basic demographic and economic covariates, dual enrollment students are more likely to attend any college, but they are no more likely to attend college full-time and are less likely to attend a four-year college. Supplementary analyses suggest selection on pretreatment college enrollment plans explains some of the initial diversionary effect of dual enrollment. Finally, we consider the role of common data limitations in interpreting results of dual enrollment studies.
Citation: Dan Goldhaber, James Cowan (2013). How Much of a “Running Start” do Dual Enrollment Programs Provide Students?. CALDER Working Paper No. 92
In this paper we will briefly review recent trends in employment outcomes for disadvantaged youth, focusing specifically on those who have become "disconnected" from school and the labor market, and why these trends have occurred. We then review a range of policy prescriptions that might improve those outcomes. These policies include: 1) Efforts to enhance education and employment outcomes, both among in-school youth who are at risk of dropping out and becoming disconnected as well as out-of-school youth who have already done so; 2) Policies to increase earnings and incent more labor force participation among youth, such as expanding the eligibility of childless adults (and especially non-custodial parents) for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC); and 3) Specific policies to reduce barriers to employment faced by ex-offenders and non-custodial parents (NCPs). We also consider policies that target the demand side of the labor market, in efforts to spur the willingness of employers to hire these young people and perhaps to improve the quality of jobs available to them.
Citation: Peter B. Edelman, Harry Holzer (2013). Connecting the Disconnected: Improving Education and Employment Outcomes Among Disadvantaged Youth. CALDER Working Paper No. 96
In this paper, we seek to provide a fairly comprehensive and up-to-date snapshot of the most important postsecondary education and labor market outcomes in the U.S. using two nationally representative sources of data: The Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) and The National Educational Longitudinal Survey (NELS). This national overview can serve as an important benchmark for the growing literature using administrative state level data to explore educational outcomes. We find that postsecondary educational attainment has risen modestly over the past two decades, with greater gains in BA attainment in the 1990s and in certificate and AA attainment since 2000 (though attainment rose in response to the Great Recession at all levels). Both younger and older cohorts of blacks and Hispanics have made relative progress in the attainment of certificates and AAs but still lag behind whites in the entry into and completion of BA programs; completion rates in BA programs also lag substantially for those from low-income families or with weak academic achievement in high school. There are labor market returns for all postsecondary credentials, including certificates and AA degrees, though these vary across field of study. Large gender gaps exist in field of study, with men favoring high paying fields. Lastly, we find that high school achievement measures explain much of the racial gaps in BA attainment and annual earnings and some of the gaps by family background, though they account for little of the continuing gender gap in annual earnings.
Citation: Harry Holzer, Erin Dunlop Velez (2013). Just the Facts, Ma’am: Postsecondary Education and Labor Market Outcomes in the U.S.. CALDER Working Paper No. 86
Students who do not have access to credit may not be able to complete their optimal level of post-secondary education. More than one out of every ten community college students nationwide attends a community college that does not allow access to federal college loans. This paper takes advantage of plausibly exogenous variation in whether a student's community college offers student loans to evaluate the effect of access to Stafford loans on student outcomes, including educational attainment, employment, and finances. Using the Beginning Postsecondary Student Study of 2004, I show that access to federal Stafford loans does not affect the decision to attend community college. However, I find that Stafford loan access increases overall borrowing among community college students by $262 a year and increases the likelihood of transferring to a four-year school by 5.6 percentage points. Additionally, for high-need and female students, loan access increases their total months of enrollment and dependent students' bachelor's degree attainment as well. These sizable effects of loan access on student behavior indicate that federal loans relax credit constraints for some community college students.
Citation: Erin Dunlop Velez (2013). What Do Stafford Loans Actually Buy You? - The Effect of Stafford Loan Access on Community College Students. CALDER Working Paper No. 94
This paper assesses the extent to which schools in the University of California (UC) system were able to restore racial diversity among admitted students using race-neutral polices after California’s ban on race-based affirmative action. Using administrative data from the UC from before and after the ban on race-contingent admissions policies, we present evidence that UC campuses changed the weight given to SAT scores, grades and family background characteristics after the end of affirmative action, and that these changes were able to substantially (though far from completely) offset the fall in minority admissions rate after the ban on affirmative action. In addition, we explore the possible inefficiencies generated by these changes in the admissions process, and find that while the new admissions rules affected the composition of admitted students, it is not clear that overall student quality declined. These results have important implications in light of the declining number of public universities in the United States that practice race-based affirmative action.
Citation: Kate Antonovics, Benjamin Backes (2013). Color-Blind Affirmative Action and Student Quality. CALDER Working Paper No. 93