The Power of Certainty: Experimental Evidence on the Effective Design of Free Tuition Policies (with Susan Dynarski, Katherine Michelmore, Stephanie Owen, Shwetha Raghuraman)
American Economic Review: Insights (forthcoming). Download the paper and appendix here.
Abstract: Proposed “free college” policies vary widely in design. The simplest set tuition to zero for everyone. More targeted approaches limit free tuition to those who demonstrate need through an application process. We experimentally test the effects of these two models on the schooling decisions of low-income students. An unconditional free tuition offer from a large public university substantially increases application and enrollment rates. A free tuition offer contingent on proof of need has a much smaller effect on application and none on enrollment. These results are consistent with students placing a high value on financial certainty when making schooling decisions.
Following in Their Footsteps or Avoiding Their Mistakes? The Role of Older Siblings in Shaping College Decision Making
Working paper, draft available upon request.
Inequality in access to resources when making consequential education and employment decisions contributes to economic stratification in educational attainment. Students rely on one such resource, their informal social networks, when making decisions about their postsecondary education, a decision that has profound impacts on future economic, demographic, and social outcomes. Given stratification in individual networks, their influence may play a role in growing educational and socioeconomic economic inequality. However, research has focused on the role of parents, or peers, with limited attention paid to siblings as a unique resource for students in their postsecondary decisions. Using longitudinal qualitative interviews with 36 high-achieving high school seniors from families with low incomes, I explore the unique role that older siblings play in shaping the postsecondary decision making of their younger siblings: what makes older sibling support meaningful? What might explain heterogeneity in the effect that siblings have on their younger siblings’ pathways? The support provided by siblings is distinct based on three primary characteristics: the intensity of the relationship, and the internal and external relevance, or the fact the information shared is recent and personalized to the students’ circumstances. I also explore heterogeneity in the relationship between siblings and student postsecondary outcomes.
Postsecondary Decision Making Study (with Stefanie DeLuca)
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There are well-documented and growing gaps in college attendance and completion rates by income. Students from families with low-incomes are less likely to go to college and often attend less selective institutions than their qualifications would allow, diminishing their educational attainment and long-term earnings, while increasing debt. As a policy response, colleges and universities have tried to increase economic diversity, and several interventions have been promising. We implemented a large-scale, longitudinal qualitative study within a randomized, controlled trial (the HAIL Scholarship Study) to understand student decision making, and to explain the mechanisms that make the HAIL Scholarship intervention so successful.
Early First-Dollar Categorical Need-Based Aid: A New Model for Making College Affordable? (PIs: Kevin Stange, Katherine Michelmore; Co-PI: Megan Tompkins-Stange)
This mixed-methods evaluation will investigate how the Tuition Incentive Program (TIP), a large first-dollar aid program in Michigan, impacts postsecondary outcomes for high school students from families with low-incomes.
The Effects of Federal Financial Aid Policy (with Fabian Pfeffer)
The Higher Education Act (HEA) is the central federal legislation regulating the financing of higher education and student financial aid. The HEA reauthorization of 1992 introduced pronounced shifts in student financial aid. We take advantage of this policy change to identify the heterogeneous impact of federal financial aid on not just the short-term college outcomes of students, such as college access and graduation, but also on longer-term and broader outcomes, including their later economic well-being and demographic transitions.