Admission and acceptance

Kevin Lewis

May 13, 2019

Second Chance: Life without Student Debt
Marco Di Maggio, Ankit Kalda & Vincent Yao
NBER Working Paper, May 2019


Rising student debt is considered one of the creeping threats of our time. This paper examines the effect of student debt relief on individual credit and labor market out- comes. We exploit the plausibly-random debt discharge due to the inability of National Collegiate, the largest owner of private student loan debt, to prove chain of title for thousands of loans across the US. Using hand-collected lawsuits filings matched with individual credit bureau information, we find that borrowers experiencing the debt relief shock reduce their indebtedness by 26%, by both reducing their demand for credit and limiting the use of existing credit accounts, and are 12% less likely to default on other accounts. After the discharge, the borrowers' geographical mobility increases, as well as their probability to change jobs, and ultimately their income increases by more than $4000 over a three year period, which is equivalent to about two months' average salary. These findings speak to the benefits of intervening in the student loan market to reduce the consequences of debt overhang problems by forgiving student debts.

Who Benefits from Accountability‐Driven School Closure? Evidence from New York City
Robert Bifulco & David Schwegman
Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, forthcoming


We estimate the effects of accountability‐driven school closure in New York City on students who attended middle schools that were closed at the time of closure and students who would have likely attended a closed middle school had it remained open. We find that students who would have entered the closed school had it not closed attended schools that perform better on standardized exams and have higher value‐added measures than did the closed schools. While we find that closure did not have any measurable effect on the average student in this group, we do find that high‐performing students in this group attended higher‐performing schools and experienced economically‐meaningful and statistically‐significant improvements in their 6th‐, 7th‐, and 8th‐grade math test scores. We find that these benefits persisted for several cohorts after closure. We also find that closure adversely affected students, low‐performing students in particular, who were attending schools that closed. For policymakers, our results highlight a key trade‐off of closing a low‐performing school: future cohorts of relatively high‐performing students may benefit from closure while low‐performing students in schools designated for closure are adversely affected.

Can Successful Schools Replicate? Scaling Up Boston's Charter School Sector
Sarah Cohodes, Elizabeth Setren & Christopher Walters
NBER Working Paper, May 2019


Can schools that boost student outcomes reproduce their success at new campuses? We study a policy reform that allowed effective charter schools in Boston, Massachusetts to replicate their school models at new locations. Estimates based on randomized admission lotteries show that replication charter schools generate large achievement gains on par with those produced by their parent campuses. The average effectiveness of Boston’s charter middle school sector increased after the reform despite a doubling of charter market share. An exploration of mechanisms shows that Boston charter schools reduce the returns to teacher experience and compress the distribution of teacher effectiveness, suggesting the highly standardized practices in place at charter schools may facilitate replicability.

Schools as places of crime? Evidence from closing chronically underperforming schools
Matthew Steinberg, Benjamin Ukert & John MacDonald
Regional Science and Urban Economics, July 2019, Pages 125-140


We leverage the closing of chronically underperforming public schools in Philadelphia to estimate their impact on neighborhood crime. Employing a difference-in-differences strategy comparing monthly crime in blocks where school buildings closed to blocks where schools remained open or were never located, we find significant and substantive declines in crime following school closure. The decline in crime is driven by reductions in violent crime, is concentrated in blocks where high schools closed, during weekday hours when schools would have been in session, and is greatest in the blocks where more students exited following closures. While crime increased in blocks that enrolled a larger share of students displaced due to closures, the displacement of crime was significantly smaller in magnitude than the total crime reduction. These results suggest that closing schools with high rates of student misconduct and low educational performance led to a net reduction in crime in Philadelphia.

The Effects of Physical Education on Student Fitness, Achievement, and Behavior
Analisa Packham & Brittany Street
Economics of Education Review, October 2019, Pages 1-18


Despite the mounting evidence that physical education (PE) has health and education benefits for elementary-aged children, much less is known on the effectiveness of such programs for older children. To study the effects of PE on adolescents, we analyze the impact of Texas Fitness Now (TFN), a four-year $37 million grant program that mandated daily PE for middle-school students in low-income schools. Using a regression discontinuity approach to exploit the cutoff in school eligibility, we find that daily PE mandates do not lead to overall improvements in student fitness, including cardiovascular endurance, strength, and flexibility. Although we show that the program was ineffective at changing average student body composition, estimates indicate a reduction in the proportion of obese students. Using individual-level school records data, we find that PE does not lead to positive spillover effects in the classroom, including improvements in standardized test scores, or increases in attendance for 6th, 7th and 8th graders. Instead, we provide some evidence to suggest that PE reduces attendance rates and increases disciplinary incidents for middle-school students.

National Gross Domestic Product, Science Interest, and Science Achievement: A Direct Replication and Extension of the Tucker-Drob, Cheung, and Briley (2014) Study
Anqing Zheng, Elliot Tucker-Drob & Daniel Briley
Psychological Science, May 2019, Pages 776-788


We replicated the study by Tucker-Drob, Cheung, and Briley (2014), who found that the association between science interest and science knowledge depended on economic resources at the family, school, and national levels, using data from the 2006 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). In more economically prosperous families, schools, and nations, student interest was more strongly correlated with actual knowledge. Here, we investigated whether these results still held despite substantial changes to educational and economic systems over roughly a decade. Using similar data from PISA 2015 (N = 537,170), we found largely consistent results. Students from more economically advantaged homes, schools, and nations exhibited a stronger link between interests and knowledge. However, these moderation effects were substantially reduced, and the main effect of science interest increased by nearly 25%, driven almost entirely by families of low socioeconomic status and nations with low gross domestic product. The interdependence of interests and resources is robust but perhaps weakening with educational progress.

Assets and Job Choice: Student Debt, Wages and Amenities
Mi Luo & Simon Mongey
NBER Working Paper, May 2019


If consumption and non-wage amenities of work enter utility, holding few assets may induce a trade-off between wages and amenities when searching for a job. We establish this in a model of search with asset accumulation, extended to accommodate amenities. We then provide empirical evidence of this trade-off in the context of student debt, finding that higher debt causes graduates to accept jobs with higher wages and lower job satisfaction. In a representative sample of college graduates, we infer causality by exploiting within-college, across cohort changes in financial aid. A quantitative extension of our theoretical framework that explicitly models student debt accounts well for our empirical results. Identifying the utility value of amenities through observed search behavior, we find that high satisfaction jobs are valued at 6 percent of lifetime consumption relative to low satisfaction jobs. This trade-off is economically significant; a policy maker using only wage data to assess the welfare effects of an income-based repayment policy would mistakenly conclude that graduates prefer a fixed repayment policy.

Genetic Associations with Mathematics Tracking and Persistence in Secondary School
Paige Harden et al.
University of Texas Working Paper, April 2019


Maximizing the flow of students through the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) pipeline is important to promoting human capital development and reducing economic inequality. A critical juncture in the STEM pipeline is the highly-cumulative sequence of secondary school math courses. Students from disadvantaged schools are less likely to complete advanced math courses, but debate continues about why. Here, we address this question using student polygenic scores, which are DNA-based indicators of propensity to succeed in education. We integrated genetic and official school transcript data from over 3,000 European-ancestry students from U.S. high schools. We used polygenic scores as a molecular tracer to understand how the flow of students through the high school math pipeline differs in socioeconomically advantaged versus disadvantaged schools. Students with higher education polygenic scores were tracked to more advanced math already at the beginning of high school and persisted in math for more years. Molecular tracer analyses revealed that the dynamics of the math pipeline differed by school advantage. Compared to disadvantaged schools, advantaged schools tracked more students with high polygenic scores into advanced math classes at the start of high school, and they buffered students with low polygenic scores from dropping out of math. Across all schools, even students with exceptional polygenic scores (top 2%) were unlikely to take the most advanced math classes, suggesting substantial room for improvement in the development of potential STEM talent. These results link new molecular genetic discoveries to a common target of educational-policy reforms.

Does Public Pre-K Have Unintended Consequences on the Child Care Market for Infants and Toddlers?
Jessica Brown
Princeton Working Paper, December 2018


I estimate the impact of public pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds on the provision of private child care for younger children by considering New York City's 2014 Universal Pre-K expansion. Private child care facilities often care for children from infancy or toddlerhood through pre-K. A public option for older children could therefore affect availability, prices, or quality of care for younger children. This effect could be positive or negative depending on the structure of the child care market, the design of the public pre-K program, and parent preferences. I use a panel dataset covering all licensed child care facilities in New York City and a difference-in-differences strategy that compares changes over time for neighborhoods with more versus fewer new public pre-K sites. I estimate that the public pre-K program reduced the capacity for children younger than 2 years old at private child care centers by 2,700 seats. The entire decrease in capacity occurs in areas with high poverty, and this decline was not offset by an increase in provision in the home day care market. In complementary analysis, I find a within-center increase in public complaints and inspection violations for day care centers that are closer to new public pre-K sites, suggesting a decrease in quality due to the increased competition from public pre-K. A back-of-the-envelope calculation indicates that for every seven 4-year-olds who shifted from day care centers to public pre-K, there was a reduction of one day care center seat for children under the age of 2.

Simplification and defaults affect adoption and impact of technology, but decision makers do not realize it
Peter Bergman, Jessica Lasky-Fink & Todd Rogers
Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, forthcoming


A field experiment (N = 6976) examines how enrollment defaults affect adoption and impact of an education technology that sends weekly automated alerts on students’ academic progress to parents. We show that a standard (high-friction) opt-in process induces extremely low parent take-up (<1%), while a simplified process yields higher enrollment (11%). Yet, with such low take-up, both fail to improve average student achievement. Meanwhile, automatically enrolling parents increases take-up to 95% and improves student achievement as measured by GPA and course passing. The GPA of students whose parents were automatically enrolled increased by an average of 0.06 points, and one in four students did not fail a class they would have otherwise failed. Surveys show automatic enrollment is uncommon, and its impact is underestimated: District leaders overestimate take-up under standard opt-in processes by about 40 percentage points and underestimate take-up under automatic enrollment by 29 percentage points. After learning the actual take-up rates, district leaders report being willing to pay substantially more for the technology when implemented under automatic enrollment than by standard opt-in processes.

The Effect of the Louisiana Scholarship Program on College Entrance
Heidi Holmes Erickson, Jonathan Mills & Patrick Wolf
University of Arkansas Working Paper, April 2019


The Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP) is a private school voucher program available to families who have incomes no greater than 250 percent of the federal poverty line and whose children attend a low performing public school. It began as a pilot program in New Orleans in 2008 and was expanded statewide in 2012. Previous evaluations of the LSP generally found negative impacts of the program on math and English language arts test scores. In this study, we evaluate the effects of the program on college enrollment for the first cohort of students eligible to enter college by 2017-18. Using lottery assignment for a student’s first choice private school, we are able to identify the causal effect of being awarded a scholarship on student attainment for just over 1,000 randomized students who were in the seventh through twelfth grades during the first year of the program. We find that 60% of treatment students who won a lottery and enrolled in their first choice private schools enter college, compared to 59.5% of control students. This difference in not statistically significant. We find no differential treatment effects when considering student enrollment in two- or four-year post-secondary institutions.

Evaluating the Effects of Universal Place‐Based Scholarships on Student Outcomes: The Buffalo “Say Yes to Education” Program
Robert Bifulco, Ross Rubenstein & Hosung Sohn
Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, forthcoming


A growing number of cities and states have been providing large tuition subsidies for residents through initiatives often called “place‐based” or “Promise” scholarship programs. We examine the effects of a prominent last‐dollar, place‐based scholarship program, Say Yes to Education in Buffalo, NY, on college matriculation and persistence. Employing a difference‐in‐differences strategy comparing changes across cohorts of students eligible and ineligible for large college scholarships, we find that scholarship eligibility is associated with an increase of 20 percent in the likelihood of matriculating into college within one year of graduation, and an increase in the likelihood of persistence into a second year of college of nearly 16 percent. Increases in matriculation are largely at four‐year institutions, where most of the additional funding from Say Yes is concentrated, exclusively at in‐state institutions, both public and private, and are largest at colleges with more selective admission rates. Finally, we see the largest increases in matriculation and persistence among students who attend high schools in the middle third of the poverty distribution. These results suggest that the additional aid provided by Say Yes plays an important role in increasing college matriculation and encouraging students to attend more selective schools.

Supporting Community College Students from Start to Degree Completion: Long-Term Evidence from a Randomized Trial of CUNY’s ASAP
Michael Weiss et al.
American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, forthcoming


Nationwide, graduation rates at community colleges are discouragingly low. This randomized experiment provides evidence that graduation rates can be increased dramatically. The City University of New York’s (CUNY) Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) is a comprehensive, integrated, three-year program that has an estimated 18 percentage point effect on three-year graduation rates, increases six-year graduation rates by an estimated 10 percentage points, and helps students graduate more quickly. Graduation effect estimates of this magnitude are exceptional in randomized experiments conducted in higher education, offering hope of what is possible when serving low-income students.

How Generative Drawing Affects the Learning Process: An Eye‐Tracking Analysis
Johannes Hellenbrand et al.
Applied Cognitive Psychology, forthcoming


Generative drawing is a learning strategy in which students draw illustrations while reading a text to depict the content of the lesson. In two experiments, students were asked to generate drawings as they read a scientific text or read the same text on influenza with author‐provided illustrations (Experiment 1), or to generate drawings or write verbal summaries as they read (Experiment 2). An examination of students' eye movements during learning showed that students who engaged in generative drawing displayed more rereadings of words, higher proportion of fixations on the important words, higher rate of transitions between words and workspace, and higher proportion of transitions between important words and workspace than students given a text lesson with author‐generated illustrations (Experiment 1) or students who were asked to write a summary (Experiment 2). These findings contribute new evidence to guide theories for explaining how generative drawing affects learning processes.

A Rapid Form of Offline Consolidation in Skill Learning
Marlene Bönstrup et al.
Current Biology, 22 April 2019, Pages 1346-1351


The brain strengthens memories through consolidation, defined as resistance to interference (stabilization) or performance improvements between the end of a practice session and the beginning of the next (offline gains). Typically, consolidation has been measured hours or days after the completion of training, but the same concept may apply to periods of rest that occur interspersed in a series of practice bouts within the same session. Here, we took an unprecedented close look at the within-seconds time course of early human procedural learning over alternating short periods of practice and rest that constitute a typical online training session. We found that performance did not markedly change over short periods of practice. On the other hand, performance improvements in between practice periods, when subjects were at rest, were significant and accounted for early procedural learning. These offline improvements were more prominent in early training trials when the learning curve was steep and no performance decrements during preceding practice periods were present. At the neural level, simultaneous magnetoencephalographic recordings showed an anatomically defined signature of this phenomenon. Beta-band brain oscillatory activity in a predominantly contralateral frontoparietal network predicted rest-period performance improvements. Consistent with its role in sensorimotor engagement, modulation of beta activity may reflect replay of task processes during rest periods. We report a rapid form of offline consolidation that substantially contributes to early skill learning and may extend the concept of consolidation to a time scale in the order of seconds, rather than the hours or days traditionally accepted.

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