Someone's alma mater

Kevin Lewis

December 03, 2018

Empowerment Through Difference: An Online Difference-Education Intervention Closes the Social Class Achievement Gap
Sarah Townsend et al.
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming


A growing body of work suggests that teaching college students a contextual understanding of difference — that students’ different experiences in college are the result of participating in different contexts before college — can improve the academic performance of first-generation students (i.e., students whose parents do not have 4-year college degrees). However, only one empirical study, using an in-person panel format, has demonstrated the benefits of this intervention approach. In the present research, we conduct two studies to test the effectiveness of a new difference-education intervention administered online to individual students. In both studies, first-year students read senior students’ and recent graduates’ stories about how they adjusted to college. In the difference-education condition, stories conveyed a contextual understanding of difference. We found that the online intervention effectively taught students a contextual understanding of difference and closed the social class achievement gap by increasing first-generation students’ psychological empowerment and, thereby, end-of-second-year grades.

School or Work? The Choice May Change Your Personality
Jessika Golle et al.
Psychological Science, forthcoming


According to the social-investment principle, entering new environments is associated with new social roles that influence people’s behaviors. In this study, we examined whether young adults’ personality development is differentially related to their choice of either an academic or a vocational pathway (i.e., entering an academic-track school or beginning vocational training). The personality constructs of interest were Big Five personality traits and vocational-interest orientations. We used a longitudinal study design and propensity-score matching to create comparable groups before they entered one of the pathways and then tested the differences between these groups 6 years later. We expected the vocational pathway to reinforce more mature behavior and curtail investigative interest. Results indicated that choosing the vocational compared with the academic pathway was associated with higher conscientiousness and less interest in investigative, social, and enterprising activities.

Might School Performance Grow on Trees? Examining the Link Between “Greenness” and Academic Achievement in Urban, High-Poverty Schools
Ming Kuo et al.
Frontiers in Psychology, September 2018


In the United States, schools serving urban, low-income students are among the lowest-performing academically. Previous research in relatively well-off populations has linked vegetation in schoolyards and surrounding neighborhoods to better school performance even after controlling for important confounding factors, raising the tantalizing possibility that greening might boost academic achievement. This study extended previous cross-sectional research on the “greenness”-academic achievement link to a public school district in which nine out of ten children were eligible for free lunch. In generalized linear mixed models, Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR)-based measurements of green cover for 318 Chicago public schools predicted statistically significantly better school performance on standardized tests of math, with marginally statistically significant results for reading — even after controlling for disadvantage, an index combining poverty and minority status. Pupil/teacher ratio %bilingual, school size, and %female could not account for the greenness-performance link. Interactions between greenness and Disadvantage suggest that the greenness-academic achievement link is different for student bodies with different levels of disadvantage. To determine what forms of green cover were most strongly tied to academic achievement, tree cover was examined separately from grass and shrub cover; only tree cover predicted school performance. Further analyses examined the unique contributions of “school tree cover” (tree cover for the schoolyard and a 25 m buffer) and “neighborhood tree cover” (tree cover for the remainder of a school’s attendance catchment area). School greenness predicted math achievement when neighborhood greenness was controlled for, but neighborhood greenness did not significantly predict either reading or math achievement when school greenness was taken into account. Future research should assess whether greening schoolyards boost school performance.

Alphabetism: The Effects of Surname Initial and the Cost of Being Otherwise Undistinguished
Alexander Cauley & Jeffrey Zax
University of Colorado Working Paper, October 2018


A small literature demonstrates that names are economically relevant. However, this is the first paper to examine the relationship between surname initial rank and male life outcomes, including human capital investments and labor market experiences. Surnames with initials farther from the beginning of the alphabet were associated with less distinction and satisfaction in high school, lower educational attainment, more military service and less attractive first jobs. These effects were concentrated among men who were undistinguished by cognitive ability or appearance, and, for them, may have persisted into middle age. They suggest that ordering is important and that over-reliance on alphabetical orderings can be harmful.

Attention Deficit–Hyperactivity Disorder and Month of School Enrollment
Timothy Layton et al.
New England Journal of Medicine, 29 November 2018, Pages 2122-2130

Background: Younger children in a school grade cohort may be more likely to receive a diagnosis of attention deficit–hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) than their older peers because of age-based variation in behavior that may be attributed to ADHD rather than to the younger age of the children. Most U.S. states have arbitrary age cutoffs for entry into public school. Therefore, within the same grade, children with birthdays close to the cutoff date can differ in age by nearly 1 year.

Methods: We used data from 2007 through 2015 from a large insurance database to compare the rate of ADHD diagnosis among children born in August with that among children born in September in states with and states without the requirement that children be 5 years old by September 1 for enrollment in kindergarten. ADHD diagnosis was determined on the basis of diagnosis codes from the International Classification of Diseases, 9th Revision. We also used prescription records to compare ADHD treatment between children born in August and children born in September in states with and states without the cutoff date of September 1.

Results: The study population included 407,846 children in all U.S. states who were born in the period from 2007 through 2009 and were followed through December 2015. The rate of claims-based ADHD diagnosis among children in states with a September 1 cutoff was 85.1 per 10,000 children (309 cases among 36,319 children; 95% confidence interval [CI], 75.6 to 94.2) among those born in August and 63.6 per 10,000 children (225 cases among 35,353 children; 95% CI, 55.4 to 71.9) among those born in September, an absolute difference of 21.5 per 10,000 children (95% CI, 8.8 to 34.0); the corresponding difference in states without the September 1 cutoff was 8.9 per 10,000 children (95% CI, −14.9 to 20.8). The rate of ADHD treatment was 52.9 per 10,000 children (192 of 36,319 children; 95% CI, 45.4 to 60.3) among those born in August and 40.4 per 10,000 children (143 of 35,353 children; 95% CI, 33.8 to 47.1) among those born in September, an absolute difference of 12.5 per 10,000 children (95% CI, 2.43 to 22.4). These differences were not observed for other month-to-month comparisons, nor were they observed in states with non-September cutoff dates for starting kindergarten. In addition, in states with a September 1 cutoff, no significant differences between August-born and September-born children were observed in rates of asthma, diabetes, or obesity.

Conclusions: Rates of diagnosis and treatment of ADHD are higher among children born in August than among children born in September in states with a September 1 cutoff for kindergarten entry.

Designed to Fail: Effects of the Default Option and Information Complexity on Student Loan Repayment
James Cox, Daniel Kreisman & Susan Dynarski
NBER Working Paper, November 2018


We ask why so few student loan borrowers enroll in Income Driven Repayment when the majority would benefit from doing so. To do so we run an incentivized laboratory experiment using a facsimile of the government’s Student Loan Exit Counseling website. We test the role information complexity, uncertainty about earnings, and the default option play. We show that despite an ex ante optimal choice, the majority choose, or are defaulted into, a plan that offers no protection against default. We find the default option is a driver of this phenomenon, suggesting the government has an easy policy lever to lower default rates – change the default plan.

Cracks in the Bedrock of American Democracy: Differences in Civic Engagement Across Institutions of Higher Education
Brent Evans, Christopher Marsicano & Courtney Lennartz
Educational Researcher, forthcoming


Preparing educated and active citizens is one of the primary goals of higher education, yet colleges and universities may neglect civic engagement due to the prioritization of labor market preparation. Drawing on neoinstitutional theory, this paper examines the missions, infrastructure, activities, and outcomes related to civic engagement across postsecondary institutional characteristics. By combining several data sources on a diverse set of institutions, we empirically demonstrate institutional isomorphism with respect to civic engagement mission and decoupling of mission from infrastructure and activities. Our most striking finding is that a residential student population is strongly associated with an increased emphasis on civic engagement even after controlling for institutional control, selectivity, research funding, and student services spending. Given the growing number of students attending nonresidential institutions, this finding has important implications for whether higher education is an effective instrument for preparing civically engaged citizens in our society.

Digitization and Divergence: Online School Ratings and Segregation in America
Sharique Hasan & Anuj Kumar
Duke University Working Paper, October 2018


We analyze whether widespread online access to school quality information affected economic and social segregation in America. We leverage the staged roll-out of school ratings across America from 2006-2015 to answer this question. Across a range of outcomes and specifications, we find that the mass availability of school ratings has accelerated divergence in housing values, income distributions, education levels, as well as the racial and ethnic composition across communities. Affluent and more educated families were better positioned to leverage this new information to capture educational opportunities in communities with the best schools. An unintended consequence of better information was less, rather than more, equity in education.

Participation in school-sponsored sports and academic spillovers: New evidence from the early childhood longitudinal survey
Xiaohui Guo, Chad Meyerhoefer & Lizhong Peng
Applied Economics, forthcoming


The link between participation in school-sponsored sports and academic performance has been studied extensively in the literature. Whilst previous studies tend to show positive academic spillovers, it remains unclear whether these positive associations are primarily driven by selection into sports. We investigate this issue using data on middle school children drawn from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998–1999. Due to the lack of credible instrumental variables for sports participation, we establish bounds for the relationship between school sports and academics using a combination of the propensity score matching method and an approach that uses selection on observed factors as a guide to selection on unobserved factors. We find that the association between participation in school-sponsored sports and academic performance as measured by standardised test scores in reading, math and science ranges from null to negative. Overall, our results suggest that failure to account for selection may result in a misleading positive correlation between sports participation and academic performance.

Getting Ahead by Spending More? Local Community Response to State Merit Aid Programs
Rajashri Chakrabarti, Nicole Gorton & Joydeep Roy
Federal Reserve Working Paper, October 2018


In more than half of U.S. states over the past two decades, the implementation of merit aid programs has dramatically reduced net tuition expenses for college-bound students who attend in-state colleges. Although the intention of these programs was to improve access to enrollment for high-achieving students, it is possible that they had unanticipated effects. We analyze whether state funding for higher education and K-12 education changed as a result of program implementation, and whether local school districts attempt to counter any such changes. We employ two methodologies to study whether this has been the case: a difference-in-differences model and a synthetic control estimation strategy. We find robust evidence that implementation of state merit aid programs led to an economically (and statistically) significant decline in state funding for K-12 education, which was mostly offset through increases in local revenues by school districts. These results have important implications for understanding how merit aid policies could have unintended consequences for the students they aim to support.

Time-Use and Academic Peer Effects in College
Nirav Mehta, Ralph Stinebrickner & Todd Stinebrickner
NBER Working Paper, October 2018


This paper examines academic peer effects in college. Unique new data from the Berea Panel Study allow us to focus on a mechanism wherein a student's peers affect her achievement by changing her study effort. Although the potential relevance of this mechanism has been recognized, data limitations have made it difficult to provide direct evidence about its importance. We find that a student's freshman grade point average is affected by the amount her peers studied in high school, suggesting the importance of this mechanism. Using time diary information, we confirm that college study time is actually being affected.

Academic Achievement Across the Day: Evidence from Randomized Class Schedules
Kevin Williams & Teny Maghakian Shapiro
Economics of Education Review, December 2018, Pages 158-170


This study expands our understanding of how school day schedules affect achievement. We focus on three aspects related to scheduling: student fatigue, time of instruction, and instructor schedules. Data cover five academic years at the United States Air Force Academy, where schedules are randomized, grading is standardized, and there is substantial variance in schedule structure. Analyzing over 180,000 student-course outcomes, we find causal evidence of cognitive fatigue brought on by scheduling multiple courses in a row. The expected performance of two students in the same class may differ by as much as 0.15 standard deviations simply owing to their prior schedules. All else equal, students perform better in the afternoon than in the early morning. We also note that instruction improves with repetition. Heterogeneous effects by ability suggest that overall gains are possible. Prioritizing certain schedules would be equivalent to improving teacher quality by one-third of a standard deviation. A reorganization of students’ daily school schedules is a promising and potentially low-cost educational intervention.

SAT optional policies: Do they influence graduate quality, selectivity or diversity?
Matt Saboe & Sabrina Terrizzi
Economics Letters, January 2019, Pages 13-17


Despite many conversations regarding the applicability and relevance of the SAT as a valid admissions tool, there is limited evidence regarding the effects of test-optional policies on various aspects of an institution’s effectiveness and the collegiate experiences within each institution. Using data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) coupled with a difference-in-difference analysis, we find that test-optional policies have very limited effects. We find SAT optional policies to have no significant effect on diversity or enrolled student quality. The only statistically significant effect we find is a brief increase in the number of applicants in response to the new policy.

The Effect of Selective Public Research University Enrollment: Evidence from California
Zachary Bleemer
University of California Working Paper, September 2018


What are the benefits and costs of attending a selective public research university instead of a less-selective university or college? This study examines the 2001-2011 Eligibility in the Local Context (ELC) program, which guaranteed University of California admission to students in the top four percent of California high school classes. Employing a regression discontinuity design, I estimate that ELC pulled 8 percent of marginally-admitted students into four "Absorbing" UC campuses from less-competitive public institutions in California. Those ELC compliers had lower SAT scores and family incomes than their eventual peers; almost half were under-represented minorities (URM), and 65 percent came from the state's bottom SAT quartile of high schools. Nevertheless, marginally eligible students became more than 20 percentage points more likely to earn a university degree within 5 years, though URM and less-prepared students became less likely to earn STEM degrees. Students' net expected earnings conditional on university completion, major, and gender substantially increased across subgroups, and linked state employment records suggest an increase in URM students' average early-career earnings.

Quantifying Family, School, and Location Effects in the Presence of Complementarities and Sorting
Mohit Agrawal, Joseph Altonji & Richard Mansfield
NBER Working Paper, October 2018


We extend the control function approach of Altonji and Mansfield (2018) to allow for multiple group levels and complementarities. Our analysis provides a foundation for causal interpretation of multilevel mixed effects models in the presence of sorting. In our empirical application, we obtain lower bound estimates of the importance of school and commuting zone inputs for education and wages. A school/location combination at the 90th versus 10th percentile of the school/location quality distribution increases the high school graduation probability and college enrollment probability by at least .06 and .17, respectively. Treatment effects are heterogeneous across subgroups, primarily due to nonlinearity in the educational attainment model.

The effect of school capital investments on local housing markets and household sorting in California
Jinsub Choi
Applied Economics, forthcoming


In this paper, I investigate what effect school capital investments have on housing values and household location choice in the context of the Tiebout model. This research identifies an exogenous variation in school capital investments by exploiting the lottery allocation of entitlement to an interest-free construction bond among districts in California. Although the lottery is exogenous, additional non-lottery allocation complicates identification. This paper develops an empirical model based on sample selection methods in order to create a counterfactual state in which additional non-lottery allocation would not have existed. I find that receiving the interest-free construction bond increases school capital expenditure and housing values at the district level. I view the increase in housing values as the capitalization of school capital investments. I find little evidence for the effect of the interest-free construction bond on household sorting and student’s academic outcomes.

Greek Life, Academics, and Earnings
William Even & Austin Smith
Miami University Working Paper, September 2018


Using records from a large public university, we examine the impact of Greek life on academic performance and salaries. To isolate the causal effect of Greek life, we exploit a university policy prohibiting students from joining a Greek organization during their first semester and a minimum GPA for subsequent eligibility. Regression discontinuity and panel methods reveal that Greek affiliation reduces student grades by 0.1-0.3 standard deviations. Greek effects are largest during the semester of pledging, semesters of increased social activities, and for males. We find no evidence of a Greek salary premium and rule out even modest positive effects.

How College Students Use Advanced Placement Credit
Brent Evans
American Educational Research Journal, forthcoming


Millions of high school students take Advanced Placement (AP) courses, which can provide college credit. Using nationally representative data, I identify a diverse set of higher education outcomes that are related to receipt of AP college credit. Institution fixed effects regression reduces bias associated with varying AP credit policies and student sorting across higher education. Results indicate college credits earned in high school are related to reduced time to degree, double majoring, and more advanced coursework. Bounding exercises suggest the time to degree and double major outcomes are not likely driven by bias from unobserved student characteristics. Policies used to support earning college credits while in high school appear to enhance undergraduate education and may accelerate time to degree.

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