A new working paper (PDF; abstract) by Martha J. Bailey, an economics professor at the University of Michigan, analyzes the effects of increased access to birth control in the 1960s and 1970s:
This paper assembles new evidence on some of the longer-term consequences of U.S. family planning policies, defined in this paper as those increasing legal or financial access to modern contraceptives. The analysis leverages two large policy changes that occurred during the 1960s and 1970s: first, the interaction of the birth control pill’s introduction with Comstock-era restrictions on the sale of contraceptives and the repeal of these laws after Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965; and second, the expansion of federal funding for local family planning programs from 1964 to 1973. Building on previous research that demonstrates both policies’ effects on fertility rates, I find suggestive evidence that individuals’ access to contraceptives increased their children’s college completion, labor force participation, wages, and family incomes decades later.
A new NBER paper (abstract; PDF) by Amanda Pallais looks at how small fees impact the application behavior and outcomes of low-income students. Using data from the ACT, she found that an increase in the number of free score reports that students were permitted to send to colleges resulted in students sending their scores to a wider range of colleges, with low-income students attending more selective colleges. These outcomes were surprising because the non-free score reports were a mere $6. The abstract:
This paper estimates the sensitivity of students’ college application decisions to a small change in the cost of sending standardized test scores to colleges. Using confidential ACT micro data, I find that when the ACT increased from three to four the number of free score reports that ACT-takers could send, the fraction of test-takers sending four reports rose substantially while the fraction sending three fell by an offsetting amount. Students simultaneously sent their scores to a wider range of colleges. Using micro data from the American Freshman Survey, two identification strategies show that ACT-takers sent more college applications and low-income ACT-takers attended more selective colleges after the cost change. The first strategy compares ACT-takers before and after the cost change, controlling for time trends and covariates, and the second estimates difference-in-difference regressions using SAT-takers as a control group. Back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that by inducing low-income students to attend more selective colleges, the policy change significantly increased their expected earnings. Because the cost of sending an additional (non-free) ACT score was merely $6 throughout, this sizable behavioral change is surprising and suggests that students may use simple heuristics in making their application decisions. In such a setting, small policy perturbations can have large effects on welfare.
Last year, we did a podcast on college tuition which discussed the growing gap between a college’s “sticker price” and the actual tuition paid by low- and middle-income working families. In order to demystify this gap — and help low-income families understand that many expensive private colleges are actually well within their reach — Wellesley College has just released a “Quick College Cost Estimator” calculator.
“The conversation that takes place around college costs is largely misguided,” Phillip B. Levine, an economics professor at Wellesley, told DavidLeonhardt of the Times. “People focus only on the sticker price. The sticker price is a meaningful statistic for roughly 40 percent of our students. The majority of our students are receiving financial aid, and for them the sticker price is an irrelevant number.” While The College Board and Harvard have similar calculators, Leonhardt likes the simplicity of Wellesley’s version. “The larger point is that Wellesley’s calculator is a significant step in the growing effort to spread accurate information about college costs,” writes Leonhardt. “As Mr. Levine says, the widespread misunderstanding of tuition ‘clos
At the core of the debate over the value of college is a collage of evidence showing that it produces better lifetime outcomes not just in income but in health and happiness. How does this happen? And how can we be sure that we aren’t just seeing a selection bias — i.e., that people who go to college would have been richer, healthier, and happier in any case?
Here’s a new working paper (abstract; PDF), by Kasey Buckles, Andreas Hagemann, Ofer Malamud, Melinda Morrill, and Abigail Wozniak which purports to show the long-term health effects of a college education. Granted, their data stretches back to the Vietnam War draft (a good instrumental variable, which other researchers have used) but their findings are significant nonetheless.
We exploit exogenous variation in college completion induced by draft-avoidance behavior during the Vietnam War to examine the impact of college completion on adult mortality. Our preferred estimates imply that increasing college completion rates from the level of the state with the lowest induced rate to the highest would decrease cumulative mortality by 28 percent relative to the mean. Most of the reduction in mortality is from deaths due to cancer and heart disease. We also explore potential mechanisms, including differential earnings, health insurance, and health behaviors, using data from the Census, ACS, and NHIS.
Differential earnings and health insurance are of course related to the income boost that college graduates receive. It is the “health behaviors” that are learned/adopted by college graduates that are especially interesting.
We’ve discussed before — in blogposts and a podcast — the value of a college degree. Writing for the New York TimesEconomix blog, Catherine Rampell points out that college degrees are particularly valuable in the U.S. “According to a report released this week by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, across the developed world the average person who has graduated from college (either two-year or four-year) and has any earnings makes about 57 percent more than a counterpart with no more than a high school education,” writes Rampell. “In the United States, the comparable earnings premium is 77 percent.”
Despite the value of a college degree in the U.S., college graduation rates in the U.S. are increasing at a much slower pace than in other rich countries. And, as Rampell points out, it’s not just individuals in the U.S. that benefit from a college degree: “[T]he average return to taxpayers [of tertiary education for the average man] is $230,722 in the United States, versus less than half that, $104,737, across the developed world.”
The black-white education gap has been widely observed at many age levels. In a new working paper called “Race and College Success” (abstract; PDF), Peter Arcidiacono and Cory Koedel examine why blacks who are admitted to college are so much less likely than whites to graduate:
Conditional on enrollment, African American students are substantially less likely to graduate from 4-year public universities than white students.* Using administrative micro data from Missouri, we decompose the graduation gap between African Americans and whites into four factors: (1) racial differences in how students sort to universities, (2) racial differences in how students sort to initial majors, (3) racial differences in school quality prior to entry, and (4) racial differences in other observed pre-entry skills. Pre-entry skills explain 65 and 86 percent of the gap for women and men respectively. A small role is found for differential sorting into college, particularly for women, and this is driven by African Americans being disproportionately represented at urban schools and the schools at the very bottom of the quality distribution.
* “At around 40 percent, six-year graduation rates for African Americans are over twenty percentage points lower than for whites (DeAngelo et al., 2011, National Center for Education Statistics, 2012).”
In the face of declining state support, many universities have introduced differential pricing by undergraduate program as an alternative to across-the-board tuition increases. This practice aligns price more closely with instructional costs and students’ ability to pay post-graduation. Exploiting the staggered adoption of these policies across universities, this paper finds that differential pricing does alter the allocation of students to majors, though heterogeneity across fields may suggest a greater supply response in particularly oversubscribed fields such as nursing. There is some evidence that student groups already underrepresented in certain fields are particularly affected by the new pricing policies. Price does appear to be a policy lever through which state governments can alter the field composition of the workforce they are training with the public higher education system.
Taking advantage of unique longitudinal data, we provide the first characterization of what college students believe at the time of entrance about their final major, relate these beliefs to actual major outcomes, and, provide an understanding of why students hold the initial beliefs about majors that they do. The data collection and analysis are based directly on a conceptual model in which a student’s final major is best viewed as the end result of a learning process. We find that students enter school quite optimistic/interested about obtaining a science degree, but that relatively few students end up graduating with a science degree. The substantial overoptimism about completing a degree in science can be attributed largely to students beginning school with misperceptions about their ability to perform well academically in science.
Do we file this item under “overconfidence” or “good gatekeeping”?
Writing at Slate, Ray Fismanreviews the latest research on the efficacy of charter schools. The study focuses on students at six Boston schools that had previously demonstrated an ability to improve students’ test scores on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System. This time, however, the researchers wanted to evaluate whether the schools really improved student outcomes or just mastered the art of “teaching to the test.” Here’s the breakdown:
The study examines the college readiness of Boston public school students who applied to attend the six charter schools between 2002 and 2008, with projected graduation dates of 2006–2013. In just about every dimension that affects post-secondary education, students who got high lottery numbers (and hence were much more likely to enroll in a charter school) outperformed those assigned lower lottery numbers. Getting into a charter school doubled the likelihood of enrolling in Advanced Placement classes (the effects are much bigger for math and science than for English) and also doubled the chances that a student will score high enough on standardized tests to be eligible for state-financed college scholarships. While charter school students aren’t more likely to take the SAT, the ones who do perform better, mainly due to higher math scores.
A new NBER working paper (PDF; abstract) by economists Scott E. Carrell and Bruce Sacerdote finds that educational incentives, even those that are offered to students late in their senior year of high school, can impact college outcomes. Here’s the abstract:
We present evidence from an ongoing field experiment in college coaching/ mentoring. The experiment is designed to ask whether mentoring plus cash incentives provided to high school students late in their senior year have meaningful impacts on college going and persistence. For women, we find large impacts on the decision to enroll in college and to remain in college. Intention to treat estimates are an increase in 15 percentage points in the college going rate (against a base rate of 50 percent) while treatment on the treated estimates are 30 percentage points. Offering cash bonuses alone without mentoring has no effect. There are no effects for men in the sample. The absence of effects for men is not explained by an interaction of the program with academic ability, work habits, or family and guidance support for college applications. However, differential returns to college and/or occupational choice may explain some of the differences in treatment effects for men and women.
Three of my colleagues and friends at the University of Chicago — Kerwin Charles, Erik Hurst, and Matt Notowidigdo — recently presented some new research that aims to understand the ups and downs in the U.S. labor market. It’s more serious and important than the usual stuff we deal with on the blog, but every once in a while we deviate from trivialities when something really good comes along.
They’ve been kind enough to put together a layperson’s version of the research below. For those looking for the full-blown academic version, you can find that here.
A Structural Explanation for the Weak Labor Market By Kerwin Charles, Erik Hurst, and Matt Notowidigdo
In the aftermath of the Great Recession, the labor market has remained anemic. Between 2007 and 2010, the employment-to-population ratio of men between the ages of 21 and 55 with less than a four-year degree fell from 82.8 percent to 73.8 percent. As of mid-2012, the employment-to-population ratio for these men remained depressed at 75.6 percent.
In our new working paper (abstract; full PDF), we show that the recent sluggish labor market in the U.S. – particularly for prime age workers without a college degree – can be traced back to the large sectoral decline in manufacturing employment that occurred during the 2000s. After decades of relative stability, total manufacturing employment in the U.S. fell by 3.5 million jobs between the beginning of 2000 and the end of 2007 (see chart below). These manufacturing jobs were lost even before the Great Recession started. During the recent recession, another 2 million manufacturing jobs were lost. While there is talk of a recent manufacturing rebound in the U.S., the recent increase is only a tiny fraction of the total manufacturing jobs lost during the 2000s.
Rutgers University fired Mike Rice – the head basketball coach – last Wednesday. This firing came about after ESPN released a video that showed Rice abusing his players. Such a video had already been seen by Rice’s boss at Rutgers in November, but until the video was shown to the public, Rutgers did not feel compelled to fire Rice.
The thing that people don’t want to hear, but which is true, is that this is probably closer to the norm than not.
Shirley goes on to note that he doesn’t think many coaches are actually hitting players. But he does note that coaches do tend to have a certain approach in conveying information to players (an approach Shirley describes in the interview).
Is this general approach to coaching effective? To date, I am not aware of any study of the effectiveness of college coaching. A study I co-authored with Mike Leeds, Eva Marikova Leeds, and Mike Mondello and published in the International Journal of Sport Finance (full PDF here) looked at 62 NBA coaches across thirty years of data. Across this sample, only 14 coaches were found to have a statistically significant and positive impact on player performance. So most NBA coaches do not appear to make their players more productive.
Reuven Brenner of The Americanexplores the economic benefits of shortening college to three years:
Assume that after graduation the average salary would be just $20,000 and remain there. With 4 million students finishing one year earlier, this would add $80 billion to the national income during that year. Or at an average annual income of $40,000, it would add $160 billion. Assume now that the additional $80 billion in national income would be compounding at 7 percent over the next 40 years. This would then amount to an additional $1.2 trillion of wealth – for just one generation of 4 million students joining the labor force a year earlier at a $20,000 salary. At $40,000, this would amount to $2.4 trillion by the fortieth year – again, for just one generation of 4 million people joining the labor force a year earlier. The added wealth depends on how rosy one makes the assumptions about salaries or compounding rates. Add 10, 20, or 30 generations, each starting to work a year earlier, and the numbers run into the tens of trillions of dollars.
The indirect impacts may be as significant. One or two years of additional, compounding earnings could do a lot to shore up entitlement programs, with a more positive impact than requiring people 65 and older to stay in the labor force much longer: the magic of resulting compounding would start earlier.
A Washington Postprofile of Liberty University, founded in 1971 by Jerry Falwell, says that Liberty has doubled its enrollment in the last six years:
The surging enrollment for a bastion of Christian conservatism in the central Virginia foothills highlights the school as a market leader at the crossroads of religion and higher education. Liberty figured out how to recruit masses of students via the Internet years before elite universities began ballyhooed experiments with free online courses.
Turbocharged growth inevitably raises questions about quality, and Liberty’s academic reputation has not risen as fast as its enrollment. About 47 percent of its first-time, full-time students graduate within six years, federal data show, below the national average of 58 percent. Liberty officials say such statistics reflect an admissions policy geared more toward opportunity than exclusivity.
And Liberty is doing well on the finance front too: “The university ended 2012 with more than $1 billion in net assets for the first time, counting cash, property, investments and other holdings. That is 10 times what the school had in 2006.”
We present a method of ranking U.S. undergraduate programs based on students’ revealed preferences. When a student chooses a college among those that have admitted him, that college “wins” his “tournament.” Our method efficiently integrates the information from thousands of such tournaments. We implement the method using data from a national sample of high-achieving students. We demonstrate that this ranking method has strong theoretical properties, eliminating incentives for colleges to adopt strategic, inefficient admissions policies to improve their rankings. We also show empirically that our ranking is (1) not vulnerable to strategic manipulation; (2) similar regardless of whether we control for variables, such as net cost, that vary among a college’s admits; (3) similar regardless of whether we account for students selecting where to apply, including Early Decision. We exemplify multiple rankings for different types of students who have preferences that vary systematically.
A new working paper (PDF; abstract) from economists Michael F. Lovenheim and Emily G. Owens examines the effects of federal financial aid, a somewhat controversial issue during last fall’s campaign, on the college attendance of students with drug convictions. From the abstract:
In 2001, amendments to the Higher Education Act made people convicted of drug offenses ineligible for federal financial aid for up to two years after their conviction. Using rich data on educational outcomes and drug charges in the NLSY 1997, we show that this law change had a large negative impact on the college attendance of students with drug convictions. On average, the temporary ban on federal financial aid increased the amount of time between high school graduation and college enrollment by about two years, and we also present suggestive evidence that affected students were less likely to ever enroll in college. Students living in urban areas and those whose mothers did not attend college appear to be the most affected by these amendments.
Elena Malik, communications chair of the 12th annual Carroll Round at Georgetown, writes to solicit applications for a worthwhile event:
The Carroll Round is an annual undergraduate international economics conference at Georgetown University that provides a unique forum for research and discussion among the world’s top undergraduates. Each year, we invite applications from students to present and discuss their work with peers, professors, and policy-makers invited to participate. This year we are honored to host guest speakers including Dr. John B. Taylor and Dr. Janet Currie. We are still recruiting applications from students.
This year’s Carroll Round will be held from April 18-21; more info here.
On that last point — the demand side — we should especially consider “consumption amenities,” as Brian Jacob, Brian McCall, and Kevin M. Stange label them in a new working paper called “College as Country Club: Do Colleges Cater to Students’ Preferences for Consumption?” (abstract; pdf). I find the passage that I’ve bolded, below, to be especially fascinating:
This paper investigates whether demand-side market pressure explains colleges’ decisions to provide consumption amenities to their students. We estimate a discrete choice model of college demand using micro data from the high school classes of 1992 and 2004, matched to extensive information on all four-year colleges in the U.S. We find that most students do appear to value college consumption amenities, including spending on student activities, sports, and dormitories. While this taste for amenities is broad-based, the taste for academic quality is confined to high-achieving students. The heterogeneity in student preferences implies that colleges face very different incentives depending on their current student body and the students who the institution hopes to attract. We estimate that the elasticities implied by our demand model can account for 16 percent of the total variation across colleges in the ratio of amenity to academic spending, and including them on top of key observable characteristics (sector, state, size, selectivity) increases the explained variation by twenty percent.
It would be great news if this meant that high-achieving students craving high academic quality will be rewarded with cheaper tuition in the future, but somehow I don’t see that happening. Do you?
We’ve blogged and podcasted about the value (or lack thereof?) of a collegeeducation. A new paper (summarized here) by sociologist Laura Hamilton suggests one way parents can help their kids get more out of college: help them a little less — with tuition, at least. Here’s the abstract:
Evidence shows that parental financial investments increase college attendance, but we know little about how these investments shape postsecondary achievement. Two theoretical frameworks suggest diametric conclusions. Some studies operate from amore-is-more perspective in which children use calculated parental allocations to make academic progress. In contrast, a more-is-less perspective, rooted in a different model of rational behavior, suggests that parental investments create a disincentive for student achievement. I adjudicate between these frameworks, using data from nationally representative postsecondary datasets to determine what effect financial parental investments have on student GPA and degree completion. The findings suggest seemingly contradictory processes. Parental aid decreases student GPA, but it increases the odds of graduating—net of explanatory variables and accounting for alternative funding. Rather than strategically using resources in accordance with parental goals, or maximizing on their ability to avoid academic work, students are satisficing: they meet the criteria for adequacy on multiple fronts, rather than optimizing their chances for a particular outcome. As a result, students with parental funding often perform well enough to stay in school but dial down their academic efforts. I conclude by highlighting the importance of life stage and institutional context for parental investment.
A new working paper by George Bulman, a Stanford Ph.D. candidate and former Teach for America teacher, looks at whether having an in-school SAT or ACT testing center affects test-taking and college enrollment: Because the additional cost of taking the exam at a neighboring high school is very small, standard economic models suggest that there should be no effect. To . . .
Q. Michael Pollan summed up his philosophy of nutrition in seven words: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” Do you have similarly pithy advice for students trying to maximize their college experience? Don’t feel limited to seven words – I’m just looking for something aphoristic. –Glen Davis
A. Your choices in college matter more than your choices of college, so choose wisely.
We recently put out a two-part podcast called “Freakonomics Goes to College” (Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and together as an hour-long special). The main question we tried to answer was if, and on what dimensions, a college education is “worth it” — i.e., whether the returns to education are as robust as we’ve been led to think. (Short answer: yes.) Along the way, we talked to economists including David Card, Betsey Stevenson, and Justin Wolfers, and poked into the market for counterfeit degrees.
But let’s say you’re interested in the question from a practical, rather than a theoretical, perspective. That is, let’s say you’re an actual college student, or related to one, already deep in the throes of higher education, and that your primary question is: Okay, now what? Now that I’m here, what do I do to get the very most out of this expensive, time-consuming endeavor?
As the A.D. at West Virginia, here’s what Luck saw happening at home football games:
“People drinking far too much at pre-game parties and tailgate parties before games. Sneaking alcohol into games. Leaving at halftime or any point during the game to go back out to the tailgate to drink even more and come back into the game. … They would usually drink hard liquor — ‘get their buzz back on’ and come back into the game for the third quarter. And the police again would know exactly at what point in the third quarter these ‘throw-up calls’ would start to come over the radio.”
I assume this is only a coincidence but still, it’s a good one.
Shortly after putting out the first half of our “Freakonomics Goes to College” podcast, which included a segment on the market for fake diplomas from counterfeiters and diploma mills, I got the following piece of spam. It appears to be from a Norwegian e-mail domain:
Spending on big-time college athletics is often justified on the grounds that athletic success attracts students and raises donations. Testing this claim has proven difficult because success is not randomly assigned. We exploit data on bookmaker spreads to estimate the probability of winning each game for college football teams. We then condition on these probabilities using a propensity score design to estimate the effects of winning on donations, applications, and enrollment. The resulting estimates represent causal effects under the assumption that, conditional on bookmaker spreads, winning is uncorrelated with potential outcomes. Two complications arise in our design. First, team wins evolve dynamically throughout the season. Second, winning a game early in the season reveals that a team is better than anticipated and thus increases expected season wins by more than one-for-one. We address these complications by combining an instrumental variables-type estimator with the propensity score design. We find that winning reduces acceptance rates and increases donations, applications, academic reputation, in-state enrollment, and incoming SAT scores.
The empirical work is based upon micro data on alumni giving at an anonymous research university. We focus on three types of financial aid, scholarships, loans, and campus jobs. …
Our main findings are: 1) Individuals who took out student loans are less likely to make a gift, other things being the same. We conjecture that this phenomenon is caused by an “annoyance effect” — alumni resent the fact that they are burdened with loans. 2) Scholarship aid reduces the size of a gift, but has little effect on the probability of donating. The negative effect of receiving a scholarship on donations decreases in absolute value with the size of the scholarship. We do not find any evidence that scholarship recipients give less because they have relatively low incomes post graduation. 3) Aid in the form of campus jobs does not have a strong effect on donative behavior.
Notwithstanding the ongoing controversy over rising college tuition costs, there’s one group of people who think that college is worth the cost: people who haven’t gone. Catherine Rampell of Economix blogs about a new survey of recent high school graduates:
Seven in 10 of these recent graduates said they would need more education if they were to have a successful career. Despite their belief in the value of post-secondary education, though, only 38 per cent definitely planned to attend college to get more education in the next five years. Barriers included skyrocketing tuitions and family obligations.
Many of the respondents felt differently at the start of high school — 35 per cent thought they would “definitely” go to college and 28 percent believed they would “probably” go. Minority students were even more optimistic at the start of high school:
The New York Times of March 30 reported that a California junior college planned to set two levels of tuition for some of its classes. Many colleges set differential tuition based on in-state residence, level of class, or type of course. But this plan would have explicitly set tuition differentially in order to fund additional offerings that would not otherwise be provided. Essentially, the college was trying to move up the supply curve of courses, recognizing that demand far exceeds supply at the current (very low) tuition level. The plan generated an outcry among people bothered by the pricing of education and was “indefinitely postpone[d].” But higher education requires resources; and if taxpayers refuse to pay taxes but insist on services, this seems like a perfectly reasonable way of meeting demand. I expect that, as in so many areas, California will once again lead the nation, this time into an expansion of additional differential pricing of course offerings in higher education.
When we think of money and college sports, we tend to think only about basketball and football. In fact, defenders of the excesses we see in those sports – with respect to salaries to coaches and university expenditures – argue that these sports are necessary to support all the other teams universities field. People often argue that outside of football and basketball, athletes in other sports don’t generate enough revenue to justify their scholarships.