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Getting From High School Through College: Policies to Raise Educational Attainment

Paper Session

Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 2:30 PM - 4:30 PM

Atlanta Marriott Marquis, International 10
Hosted By: American Economic Association
  • Chair: Bruce Sacerdote, Dartmouth College

Do Human Capital Decisions Respond to the Returns to Education? Evidence from DACA

Na'ama Shenhav
Dartmouth College
Elira Kuka
Southern Methodist University
Kevin Shih
Rensselaer Polytechnic University


This paper studies the human capital responses to a large shock in the returns to
education for undocumented youth. We obtain variation in the benefits of schooling
from the enactment of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy in
2012, which provides work authorization and deferral from deportation for high school
educated youth. We implement a difference-in-differences design by comparing DACA
eligible to non-eligible individuals over time, and we find that DACA had a significant
impact on the investment decisions of undocumented youth. High school graduation
rates increased by 15 percent while teenage births declined by 45 percent. Further, we
find that college attendance increased by 25 percent among women, suggesting that
DACA raised aspirations for education above and beyond qualifying for legal status.
We find that the same individuals who acquire more schooling also work more (at the
same time), counter to the typical intuition that these behaviors are mutually exclusive,
indicating that the program generated a large boost in productivity.

Increasing Community College Completion Rates among Low-Income Students: Evidence from a Randomized Controlled Trial Evaluation of a Case Management Intervention

Melissa Kearney
University of Maryland
William N. Evans
University of Notre Dame
James X. Sullivan
University of Notre Dame
Brendan Perry
University of Notre Dame


Community colleges are an important part of the higher education landscape in the United States, but completion rates are extremely low, especially among low-income students. Much of the existing policy and research attention to this issue has focused on addressing academic and financial challenges. However, there is ample reason to think that non-academic obstacles might be key drivers of dropout rates for students living with the burden of poverty. This study examines the impact of a comprehensive case management intervention that is designed specifically to help low-income students overcome the multitude of barriers to college completion. We evaluate the impact of this intervention through a randomized controlled trial evaluation (RCT) conducted between 2013 and 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas. Eligible students were randomly assigned to a treatment group that was offered comprehensive case management, including emergency financial assistance (EFA), a separate treatment group offered only EFA, or a control group. Data from school administrative records indicate that the comprehensive case management program significantly increases persistence and degree completion, especially for women. Estimates for the full sample are imprecise, but the estimates for women imply that the case management intervention tripled associate degree receipt (31 percentage point increase).We find no difference in outcomes between the EFA-only treatment arm and the control group. A back-of-the-envelope calculation using average earnings gains associated with community college completion implies that program benefits exceed program costs ($5,640 per student for three year program) after only 4.25 years in the workforce post schooling.

Student Loan Nudges: Experimental Evidence on Borrowing and Educational Attainment

Lesley Turner
University of Maryland
Benjamin M. Marx
University of Illinois


We provide the first experimental evidence on the effect of student loans on educational attainment. Loan amounts listed in financial aid award letters (“offers”) do not alter students’ choice sets but significantly affect borrowing. Students treated with a nonzero offer were 40 percent more likely to borrow than those who received a $0 offer. Per additional borrower, loans increased by $4000, GPA and completed credits increased by 30 percent, and following-year transfers to four-year public colleges increased by 11 percentage points. Cost-benefit and theoretical analyses suggest nonzero offers enhance welfare, yet over 5 million students are not currently offered loans

The Bottom Line on College Counseling

Andrew Barr
Texas A&M University
Benjamin Castleman
University of Virginia


Low-income students are substantially less likely to graduate from college than their
high-income peers. In response to this disparity, federal and state governments and
local communities have invested heavily in college advising programs as a strategy to
support low-income and first-generation students during the college process. Despite
the volume of programs and magnitude of financial investment, rigorous evidence of
their impact on student college success is limited. Our paper contributes new, precisely
estimated evidence of the effects of an intensive college advising program. We
conducted a multi-cohort randomized control trial of the Bottom Line (BL) college
advising model. We find that the BL model of advising students during high school
and into college, combined with explicit guidance to students about applying to and
attending institutions where they are likely to be successful without incurring substantial
costs, leads to large effects on college enrollment and four-year college enrollment.
In contrast to most interventions, these effects grow over time as program participants
are substantially more likely to persist in college than control students who did not
receive BL advising. Additional results using survey data, detailed counselor-student
interaction data, and quasi-random counselor assignment indicate that the program has
little effect on FAFSA filing, but instead works by altering application behavior, helping
students balance cost and quality considerations in choosing where to enroll, and
providing ongoing support while students are in college. Program effects are remarkably
consistent across space, time, counselors, and student characteristics, suggesting
that the BL model is highly scalable. Back of the envelope calculations suggest that if
the BL model were adopted broadly it would cut the income gap in four-year college
enrollment in half.
Philip Oreopoulos
University of Toronto
Sarah Turner
University of Virginia
Scott Carrell
University of California-Davis
Michael F. Lovenheim
Cornell University
JEL Classifications
  • I2 - Education and Research Institutions
  • J0 - General