Current Issue: Volume 15, Issue 2, Spring 2020

Education Finance and Policy - Volume 15, Issue 2, Spring 2020


Apply Yourself: Racial and Ethnic Differences in College Application. Sandra E. Black, Kalena E. Cortes, and Jane Arnold Lincove. Education Finance and Policy Spring 2020, Vol. 15, No. 2, pp. 209–240

Access to higher education begins with a student's decision whether and where to apply to college. This paper examines racial and ethnic differences in college application behavior of high school graduates, using two recent graduation cohorts from Texas. We estimate racial and ethnic differences in the probability of applying to college, controlling for a student's college readiness, high school quality, certainty of college admissions, and high school fixed effects. We then investigate racial and ethnic differences in the choice of where to apply. We enhance the typical model of college matching by considering the social setting and high school feeder patterns of state universities. We find that racial and ethnic gaps in application rates, particularly for Hispanic students, are not explained by differential levels of college readiness, high school quality, or information regarding college admission processes. When applying to college, minorities are influenced by more than just matching their academic ability to the institution, and prefer institutions with a large proportion of same-race students and campuses where same-race students from their high school have been successful in the past.

Is School Out for the Summer? The Impact of Year-Round Pell Grants on Academic and Employment Outcomes of Community College Students. Vivian Yuen Ting Liu. Education Finance and Policy Spring 2020, Vol. 15, No. 2, pp. 241–269

Despite having been the largest source of financial aid to low-income college students in the United States, the traditional Pell Grant had one major limitation: If students enrolled in two semesters full-time, they would not have had any tuition support for the summer term of the same academic year. The year-round Pell (YRP) was implemented in the academic years 2009–10 and 2010–11 to provide a second Pell Grant to students who enrolled in more than twenty-four credits prior to the third semester and in at least six credits during the summer term. Using a state administrative dataset from a community college system, this paper uses a difference-in-differences approach to examine the credit, credential completion, and labor market outcomes resulting from the YRP. The study finds that for each $1,000 of additional YRP grant funding, summer enrollment increases by 28 percentage points, diploma completion rates increase by 1.6 percentage points, and third-year earnings from college entry increase by $200. For YRP-eligible students who started in a short-term program, the gains are a 2 percentage point higher certificate attainment rate, 3.6 percentage point increase in associate degree completion, and no effect on four-year transfer rates.

Identifying Preferences for Equal College Access, Income, and Income Equality. Bernardo Lara and Kenneth A. Shores. Education Finance and Policy Spring 2020, Vol. 15, No. 2, pp. 270–291

Revealed preferences for equal college access may be due to beliefs that equal access increases societal income or income equality. To isolate preferences for those goods, we implement an online discrete choice experiment using social statistics generated from true variation among commuting zones. We find that, ceteris paribus, the average income that individuals are willing to sacrifice is (1) $4,984 to increase higher education enrollment by 1 standard deviation (14 percent); (2) $1,168 to decrease rich/poor gaps in higher education enrollment by 1 standard deviation (8 percent); and (3) $2,900 to decrease the 90/10 income inequality ratio by 1 standard deviation (1.66). In addition, we find that political affiliation is an important moderator of preferences for equality. While both Democrats and Republicans are willing to trade over $4,000 to increase higher education enrollment by 1 standard deviation, Democrats are willing to sacrifice nearly three times more income to decrease either rich/poor gaps in higher education enrollment or the 90/10 income inequality ratio by 1 standard deviation.

Gray University Degrees: Experimental Evidence from India. Tanmoy Majilla and Matthias Rieger. Education Finance and Policy Spring 2020, Vol. 15, No. 2, pp. 292–309

Scams involving university degrees are flourishing in many emerging markets. Using a resume experiment in India, this paper studies the impact of gray degrees, or potentially bought academic credentials from questionable universities, on callback rates to job applications. The experiment varied the type of degree (no, gray, and authentic) in online applications to entry-level jobs that require no university qualification. We find that gray degrees increase callback rates by 42 percent or 8 percentage points relative to having no degree. However, we also document that gray degrees fare on average worse than authentic degrees. These empirical patterns are consistent with a model where employers have beliefs about the authenticity of degrees and are discounting gray-degree universities probabilistically. We discuss our findings with respect to the Indian context.

Making the Most of School Vacation: A Field Experiment of Small Group Math Instruction. Beth E. Schueler. Education Finance and Policy Spring 2020, Vol. 15, No. 2, pp. 310–331

Catching students up who have fallen behind academically is a key challenge for educators, and can be difficult to do in a cost-effective manner. This field experiment examines the causal effect of a program designed to provide struggling sixth and seventh graders with math instruction delivered in small groups of roughly ten students by select teachers over weeklong vacation breaks. The program was implemented in a set of low-performing Massachusetts middle schools undergoing turnaround reforms. Attendance at these “Vacation Academies” increased the probability that students scored proficient or higher on Common Core–aligned math exams by 10 percentage points and reduced students’ exposure to exclusionary discipline by decreasing out-of-school suspensions post-Academy. I find suggestive evidence of positive spillover effects on English Language Arts achievement and end-of-course grades in math and reading. Participants assigned to a single primary teacher for the entire week saw larger reductions in out-of-school suspensions than did students who rotated through teachers specializing in particular lessons. However, teacher specialization was associated with greater test score gains, suggesting a trade-off in outcomes depending on program design. Overall, the program's low cost and lack of a highly competitive teacher selection process make it a scalable approach to individualizing instruction.

The Consequences of Leaving School Early: The Effects of Within-Year and End-of-Year Teacher Turnover. Gary T. Henry and Christopher Redding. Education Finance and Policy Spring 2020, Vol. 15, No. 2, pp. 332–356

Using unique administrative data from North Carolina that allow us to separate classroom teacher turnover during the school year from end-of-year turnover, we find students who lose their teacher during the school year have significantly lower test score gains (on average −7.5 percent of a standard deviation unit) than those students whose teachers stay. Moreover, the turnover of other teachers during the year lowers achievement gains, whereas end-of-year teacher turnover appears to have little effect on achievement. The harmful effects of within-year turnover cannot be explained by other extraneous shocks or the quality of departing teachers. Teachers who depart from December through April have the most harmful effects on achievement, although these vary somewhat by level of schooling and subject.

Is Less More? Subject-Area Specialization and Outcomes in Elementary Schools. Kevin C. Bastian and C. Kevin Fortner. Education Finance and Policy Spring 2020, Vol. 15, No. 2, pp. 357–382

Whereas subject-area specialization is common practice in secondary grades, little is known about its incidence and impact in elementary schools. In this study we use data from North Carolina elementary schools to assess which teachers specialize and estimate whether specialization is associated with teacher effectiveness and school achievement. We find that specialization is prevalent in upper-elementary grades—approximately 25 percent of fourth-grade teachers and 37 percent of fifth-grade teachers specialize—and schools assign relatively more effective teachers to specialize. Analyses indicate that specialization is not leading to its theorized benefits in mathematics and reading. Teachers are less effective than they were before specializing and school-level achievement is not associated with more specialization. However, science results suggest benefits to subject-area specialization. These findings question the use of specialization in elementary grades but invite continued research to more fully assess its impact.

Policy Brief

Appropriate Standards of Evidence for Education Policy Decision Making. Carrie Conaway and Dan Goldhaber. Education Finance and Policy Spring 2020, Vol. 15, No. 2, pp. 383–396

Education policy makers must make decisions under uncertainty. Thus, how they think about risks has important implications for resource allocation, interventions, innovation, and the information that is provided to the public. In this policy brief we illustrate how the standard of evidence for making decisions can be quite inconsistently applied, in part because of how research findings are reported and contextualized. We argue that inconsistencies in evaluating the probabilities of risks and rewards can lead to suboptimal decisions for students. We offer suggestions for how policy makers might think about the level of confidence they need to make different types of decisions and how researchers can provide more useful information so that research might appropriately affect decision making.