Publications and Working Papers

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 (2023). 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 their 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. 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.

Ongoing Data Collection

Postsecondary Decision Making Study (with Stefanie DeLuca)

Visit our Project Site (and here). 

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. We have thus far conducted over 100 in-depth interviews with students, and over 50 in-depth interviews with parents. We are currently conducting follow-up interviews with students a few years into their transition to postsecondary education or work. 

Current Funding: Russell Sage Foundation (PIs: Elizabeth Burland and Stefanie DeLuca)

Previous Funders: Smith Richardson Foundation (PIs: Stefanie DeLuca and Susan Dynarski), University of Michigan's Poverty Solutions, the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins University

Current Project Team: Elizabeth Burland, Stefanie DeLuca, Jasmina Camo-Biogradlija, Kendall Dorland, Dayna Valek, Maggie Tydings, and John Ellis.

Early First-Dollar Categorical Need-Based Aid: A New Model for Making College Affordable? (with Kevin Stange, Katherine Michelmore, Megan Tompkins-Stange, Jasmina Camo-Biogradlija, and Marissa Thompson)

See the press release here and our project website here

In this mixed-methods evaluation, we are working to understand how the Tuition Incentive Program (TIP), a state-run first-dollar free community college program for Michigan students experiencing financial hardship, impacts postsecondary outcomes for high school students from families with low-incomes. This project uses qualitative interviews, descriptive analysis of administrative data, and quasi-experimental program evaluation to understand program take-up, key stake-holder experience, and whether the program is effective at increasing access to postsecondary education (and why or why not). We are pairing analysis of administrative data with qualitative interviews with program implementation staff, school counselors, students, and parents. Through these interviews, we plan to unpack program take-up heterogeneity identified in the quantitative data analysis: what is working, what is not working, and who is facing barriers to access this grant funding. Further, we hope to understand what can be done to improve the state of Michigan's policy efforts to make college accessible and affordable for all students. 

Funded by: the Institute of Education Sciences (IES)

Current Qualitative Project Team:  Megan Tompkins-Stange, Elizabeth Burland, Jasmina Camo-Biogradlija, Xavier Fields, Sam Owusu, Chelsea Giller, Danica Swiggart.

Categorizing and Understanding Facilities and Long-term (Capital) Investments (with Jinhai Yu)

The school districts throughout Connecticut were allocated significant ARP-ESSER funds to spend on longer-term (capital) investments, including HVAC upgrades, purchasing of new technology, etc. This project is tasked with understanding the ways in which districts spent the allocations on long-term facilities and other physical investments and the impacts on student outcomes. This study will use a mixed methods approach. The quantitative analysis includes coding capital investments under ARP-ESSER plans, descriptive data analysis of the ARPESSER capital investments, and analysis of the impact of the ARP-ESSER capital investments on student academic and behavioral outcomes. In addition to analysis of the quantitative data, the research team will conduct interviews with key district decision-makers in a subsample of districts to understand how these ARP-ESSER funds were allocated, what they perceive to be the impact of the funding on student outcomes, and the role of COVID-19 and other factors in shaping spending priorities. This project will result in a policy report for the Connecticut COVID-19 Education Research Collaborative as well as at least one academic publication.

Funded by: the Center for Connecticut Education Research Collaboration 

Other Works in Progress

Postsecondary Choices and Perceived Risk: Leveraging a Financial Aid Experiment to Understand the College Decisions Students from Families with Low-Incomes (with Stefanie DeLuca)

Experimental Evidence on the Effects of College Quality on Educational Attainment (with Sue Dynarski, Katie Leu, CJ Libassi, Kathy Michelmore,  Stephanie Owen, and Mary Quiroga)

How Perceptions of Family Support Diverge: Comparative Evidence of Parent and Students Differences in the Experience of Decision-Making about Postsecondary Education (with Jasmina Camo-Biogradlija)

Varying Contexts, Varying Consequences: The Role of Geographic Variation in Shaping Educational Inequality

The Effects of Federal Financial Aid Policy (with Fabian Pfeffer)