Human-Capital Appreciation

Kevin Lewis

December 14, 2020

From deficit to benefit: Highlighting lower-SES students' background-specific strengths reinforces their academic persistence
Ivan Hernandez, David Silverman & Mesmin Destin
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, forthcoming


Students from lower-socioeconomic (SES) backgrounds have unique background-specific strengths that they have acquired from their lived experiences. We test the hypotheses that guiding students toward recognizing the strengths that they have derived from their specific background and experiences will promote their positive understandings of their identities and have positive implications for their academic motivation and psychological well-being. Specifically, we present evidence indicating that a brief experimental paradigm guiding students to reflect on their background-specific strengths leads lower-SES college students (Study 1; N = 186), as well as Black and Latinx middle school students from lower-SES backgrounds (Study 2; N = 912), to endorse the idea that they are assets to their schools and society because of their backgrounds and increases their inclinations to persist in the face of academic difficulty. These psychological consequences were significantly associated with middle school students' end-of-term grades (Study 2).

The Distributional Effects of Student Loan Forgiveness
Sylvain Catherine & Constantine Yannelis
NBER Working Paper, December 2020


We study the distributional consequences of student debt forgiveness in present value terms, accounting for differences in repayment behavior across the earnings distribution. Full or partial forgiveness is regressive because high earners took larger loans, but also because, for low earners, balances greatly overstate present values. Consequently, forgiveness would benefit the top decile as much as the bottom three deciles combined. Blacks and Hispanics would also benefit substantially less than balances suggest. Enrolling households who would benefit from income-driven repayment is the least expensive and most progressive policy we consider.

Who Mismanages Student Loans and Why?
Kimberly Rodgers Cornaggia & Han Xia
Pennsylvania State University Working Paper, August 2020


With a license to use individually identifiable information on student loan borrowers, we find that a majority of distressed student borrowers manage their debt sub-optimally and that suboptimal debt management is associated with higher loan delinquency. Cross-sectional analysis indicates that loan (mis)management varies significantly across student gender, ethnicity, and age. We test several potential selection-based explanations for such demographic variation in student loan management, including variation in students' overconfidence, consumption preferences and discount rates, and aversion to administrative paperwork. Motivated by federal and state allegations against student loan servicers, we also test for the presence of treatment effects. Overall, the empirical evidence supports the conclusion that loan servicers' differential treatment across borrowers play an important role in student loan outcomes.

Early predictors of successful military careers among West Point cadets
Everett Spain, Eric Lin & Lissa Young
Military Psychology, forthcoming


The importance of leadership to organizational performance puts a premium on identifying future leaders. Early prediction of high-potential talent enables organizations to marshal scarce developmental resources and opportunities to those who are best positioned to show distinction in elevated roles. Much of the existing literature indicates that general mental ability remains the strongest predictor of future professional performance. Using data from 13 classes of West Point graduates who stayed in the Army to be considered for at least early promotion to the rank of major (N = 5,505), regression analyses indicate that cadet military grade point average surpasses both cognitive ability and academic performance by a considerable margin in the ability to predict future professional outcomes such as selection for early promotion or battalion command. Moreover, these differences in predicting managerial career outcomes endure over 16 years. Both practical and theoretical implications are discussed.

Intergenerational Mobility and Unequal School Opportunity
Andreu Arenas & Jean Hindriks
Economic Journal, forthcoming


We analyse the impact of unequal school opportunity on intergenerational income mobility and human capital accumulation. Building upon the classical Becker-Tomes-Solon framework, we use a regime-switch model allowing for differences in income transmission across groups. We find that unequal school opportunity raises average human capital because of assortative matching. However, because income dispersion tends to be higher at the top, in most cases unequal school opportunity decreases intergenerational mobility. Calibrating the model to the USA, simulations suggest that school equalisation and desegregation policies have positive effects on mobility at relatively small efficiency costs.

The Color of Money: Federal vs. Industry Funding of University Research
Tania Babina et al.
NBER Working Paper, December 2020


U.S. universities have experienced a shift in research funding away from federal and towards private industry sources. This paper evaluates whether the source of funding - federal or private industry - is relevant for commercialization of research outputs. We link person-level grant data from 22 universities to patent and career outcomes (including IRS W-2 records). To identify a causal effect, we exploit individual-level variation in exposure to narrow federal R&D programs stemming from pre-existing field specialization. We instrument for the researcher's funding sources with aggregate supply shocks to federal funding within these narrow fields. The results show that a higher share of federal funding reduces patenting and the chances of joining an incumbent firm, while increasing the chances of high- tech entrepreneurship and of remaining employed in academia. A decline in the federal share of funding is offset by an increase in the private share of funding, which has opposite effects. We conclude that the incentives of private funders to appropriate research outputs have important implications for the trajectory of university researcher careers and intellectual property.

Investigating the Academic Performance and Disciplinary Consequences of School District Internet Access Spending
Yixing Chen, Vikas Mittal & Shrihari (Hari) Sridhar
Journal of Marketing Research, forthcoming


Public school districts not only make strategic investments in internet access as a means to attract and retain students but also communicate the value of these investments with parents as part of their marketing programs. While it helps attract more customers, how does school district internet access spending (SDIAS) affect academic performance and disciplinary problems among students? Using a longitudinal data set that combines SDIAS of 1,243 school districts with academic performance and disciplinary records of more than 9,000 Texas public schools between 2000 and 2014, the authors find that a one-standard-deviation increase in SDIAS (an average increase of $.6 million) is associated with an improvement in eight academic performance indicators, with effect sizes ranging from 2% to 5% of a standard deviation, amounting to a $.8 million to $1.8 million increase in cumulative income for the current students of a school district. Furthermore, a one-standard-deviation increase in SDIAS is associated with a 5% increase in Part II offense-related school disciplinary problems, amounting to a yearly cost of $25,800 to $53,440 for a school district. The positive and negative consequences of SDIAS are more pronounced among schools in regions with a higher level of household internet access.

Susceptibility to Being Lured Away by a Stranger: A Real-World Field Test of Selective Trust in Early Childhood
Qinggong Li et al.
Psychological Science, December 2020, Pages 1488-1496


In this preregistered field study, we examined preschool children's selective trust in a real-life situation. We investigated whether 3- to 6-year-old children (total N = 240) could be lured to a new location within their school grounds by an unfamiliar adult confederate. In a between-subjects manipulation, the confederate established either a high or a low level of personal credibility by providing information that the child knew to be either true or false. In Experiment 1, in which the confederate was female, children showed sensitivity to informational accuracy by being less willing to leave with an uninformed confederate, and this effect increased with age. In Experiment 2, in which the confederate was male, children were reluctant to leave regardless of informational accuracy. These findings point to real-world implications of epistemic-trust research and provide the first evidence regarding the early development of selective trust in a high-stakes naturalistic context.

A Promise Kept? The Impact of the El Dorado Promise Scholarship on Student Achievement
Jennifer Ash, Elise Swanson & Gary Ritter
Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, forthcoming


We examine whether the El Dorado Promise, a guaranteed college scholarship program for students in the El Dorado School District (EDSD), affected elementary and middle school achievement using a quasi-experimental matching design. We first match the EDSD with similar districts to create a pool of potential comparison students then match students on prior achievement and demographics. The Promise leads to an estimated 0.11 standard deviation gain in math achievement; this effect is statistically significant and practically meaningful. Results are similar from district-level synthetic control and difference-in-differences analyses. We find larger effects on students with above-average prior achievement. We are unable to construct an appropriate comparison group to estimate the impact of the Promise on literacy achievement.

Student Effort Response to Shifts in University Admission Policies
Viviana Rodriguez
Columbia University Working Paper, November 2020


Changing the incentives students face is one lever for educators and policymakers to improve student learning in the presence of student disengagement. A statewide postsecondary admission policy which changes minimum college admissions standards for North Carolina high school students wishing to attend college in-state provides a setting to test how student effort responds to incentive structures. Regression discontinuity estimates show that students respond to the admission policy by increasing GPA and decreasing absences and suspensions. These effects suggest an increase in student engagement, however, the boost in GPA is driven by changes in course composition, with students substituting away from more demanding coursework. These unintended consequences of admission policies on student course-taking decisions can lead students to miss important learning opportunities in high school, possibly generating detrimental effects on student postsecondary success.

First-year college students' weight change is influenced by their randomly assigned roommates' BMI
Irene van Woerden et al.
PLoS ONE, November 2020

Methods: First-year college students (n = 104) from a southwestern U.S. university were randomly assigned roommates during the university's housing process, effectively removing friend selection effects. Participant BMI was measured up to four times (T1-T4) across 2015-2016. The influence of roommate baseline BMI (T1) on change in participant BMI over time (T2-T4) was analyzed using a linear mixed effects model adjusted for individual socio-demographics, linear time trends, baseline BMI, and physical clustering of students. A sensitivity analysis examining floormates was also conducted.

Results: Consistent with roommate influence, participants randomized to roommates with a higher BMI gained more weight between times T2 and T4 (β = 0.06; 95% CI = 0.02, 0.10). No shared environment effects (shared campus or floor) were found.


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