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College access and completion
A number of school districts and states have implemented transition intervention programs designed to help high school students graduate ready for college. This study estimates the effectiveness of a transition program implemented statewide in Kentucky for high school seniors called Targeted Interventions (TI). Using 11 years of linked panel data, this study tracks the college progression of seven cohorts of students as they move from high school into college. Using a difference-in-regression discontinuity design, we estimate the program’s impact on college credit attainment and transfer as well as the extent to which the program has helped reshape pathways through college. We find that the TI program significantly increased the likelihood that students would take at least 15 credits during the first term in college, a key measure that has been shown to be predictive of college completion. These early effects, however, do not translate into statistically significant impacts on the likelihood of transfers from a 2-year to a 4-year college, or the likelihood of earning enough credits to graduate from college. We discuss some possible explanations for why the TI program did not lead to observable improvements in college transfer or credit accumulation.
Citation: Zeyu Xu, Benjamin Backes, Dan Goldhaber (2021). Transition Intervention in High School and Pathway Through College. CALDER Working Paper No. 255-0821
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
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
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
Although a wealth of research has shown that financial aid reduces hurdles to college enrollment, relatively little is known about how aid affects students after they are enrolled, much less how students react to the common occurrence of losing aid midway through their college careers. Using longitudinal data on four cohorts of Tennessee public college students, we find that failing to renew merit scholarships decreases credit loads, decreases the likelihood of declaring a major, increases labor force participation and earnings while enrolled, and increases the likelihood of leaving college without a degree for the workforce. Together, findings suggest that losing financial aid weakens students’ engagement with college, particularly at the extensive margin.
Citation: Celeste Carruthers, Umut Özek (2013). Losing HOPE: Financial Aid and the Line Between College and Work. CALDER Working Paper No. 91
This paper contributes to the empirical literature on remediation in community colleges by using policy variation across North Carolina’s community colleges to examine how remediation affects various outcomes for traditional-age college students. We find that being required to take a remedial course (as we define it in this paper) either in math or in English significantly reduces a student’s probability of success in college and also the probability that a student ever passes a college-level math or English course. Among students who are required to take a remedial course in their first semester, however, we find no adverse effects on the probability of returning for another semester. We also find differential effects by a student’s prior achievement level, family income and gender. Despite the difference in the methodologies, our main findings are generally consistent with, albeit somewhat more negative, than those from prior studies based on regression discontinuity designs.
Citation: Charles Clotfelter, Helen Ladd, Jacob Vigdor, Clara Muschkin (2013). Developmental Education in North Carolina Community Colleges. CALDER Working Paper No. 88
A considerable fraction of college students and bachelor's degree recipients attend multiple postsecondary institutions. Despite this fact, there is scant research that examines the nature of the paths – both the number and types of institutions – that students take to obtain a bachelor's degree or through the higher education system more generally. We also know little about how contact with multiple institutions of varying quality affects postgraduate life outcomes. We use a unique panel data set from Texas that allows us to both examine in detail the paths that students take towards a bachelor's degree and estimate how contact with multiple institutions is related to degree completion and subsequent earnings. We show that the paths to a bachelor's degree are diverse and that earnings and BA receipt vary systematically with these paths. Our results call attention to the importance of developing a more complete understanding of why students transfer and what causal role transferring has on the returns to postsecondary educational investment.
Citation: Rodney J. Andrews, Jing Li, Michael Lovenheim (2012). Heterogeneous Paths Through College: Detailed Patterns and Relationships with Graduation and Earnings. CALDER Working Paper No. 83
Community colleges are complex organizations and assessing their performance, though important, is difficult. Compared to four-year colleges and universities, community colleges serve a more diverse population and provide a wider variety of educational programs that include continuing education and technical training for adults, and diplomas, associates degrees, and transfer credits for recent high school graduates. Focusing solely on the latter programs of North Carolina’s community colleges, we measure the success of each college along two dimensions: attainment of an applied diploma, or degree; or completion of the coursework required to transfer to a four-year college or university. We address three questions. First, how much variation is there across the institutions in these measures of student success? Second, how do these measures of success differ across institutions after we adjust for the characteristics of the enrolled students? Third, how do our measures compare to the measures of success used by the North Carolina Community College System? We find that most of the system’s colleges cannot be statistically distinguished from one another along either dimension.
Citation: Charles Clotfelter, Helen Ladd, Clara Muschkin, Jacob Vigdor (2012). Success in Community College: Do Institutions Differ?. CALDER Working Paper No. 74