New Math

Kevin Lewis

May 10, 2021

Why Have College Completion Rates Increased? An Analysis of Rising Grades
Jeffrey Denning et al.
NBER Working Paper, April 2021


College completion rates declined from the 1970s to the 1990s. We document that this trend has reversed--since the 1990s, college completion rates have increased. We investigate the reasons for the increase in college graduation rates. Collectively, student characteristics, institutional resources, and institution attended do not explain much of the change. However, we show that grade inflation can explain much of the change in graduation rates. We show that GPA is a strong predictor of graduation rates and that GPAs have been rising since the 1990s. We also find that in national survey data and rich administrative data from 9 large public universities increases in college GPAs cannot be explained by student demographics, preparation, and school factors. Further, we find that at a public liberal arts college, grades have increased over time conditional on final exam performance.

The Paradox of HBCU Graduation Rates
Ethan Gordon et al.
Research in Higher Education, May 2021, Pages 332-358


This paper examines the propensity of African American students to graduate from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Using IPEDS data from 2004 to 2016, we take care in developing a control group of institutions from which to compare HBCU success. Results suggest that despite accepting more students who are at risk of not graduating, HBCUs have a higher graduation rate for African American students than their peers. We then show that gender nor major choice help explain this persistent difference.

Making College Affordable? The Impacts of Tuition Freezes and Caps
Lois Miller & Minseon Park
University of Wisconsin Working Paper, April 2021


Many state governments impose tuition regulations on public colleges in pursuit of college affordability. How effective are these regulations? We use a modified event study design to study how colleges' "sticker price" and institutional financial aid change during and after tuition caps and freezes in the United States from 1990 to 2013. While tuition regulations lower sticker prices during the regulation, colleges recoup losses through lowering institutional financial aid and more rapidly increasing tuition after the regulation has ended. Four-year colleges take advantage of the discrepancy between sticker price and net price - we estimate that regulations lower sticker price by 6.3 percentage points but at the same time lower institutional aid by nearly twice as much (11.3 percentage points). The gap widens over time: two years after the regulation has been lifted, sticker prices are 7.3 percentage points lower, and aid is 19.5 percentage points lower, than they would have been in the absence of the regulation. Two-year colleges rapidly increase tuition after the regulation - while there is a negative effect of 9.3 percentage points on sticker price during the cap/freeze, the negative effect disappears within three years of the end of the regulation. Net tuition discounts from caps and freezes vary widely across types of students; we find that while some students experience discount rates of up to 5.9 percentage points over four years in college, others must pay up to 3.8 percentage points more than they would have without the regulation. Students who receive financial aid, enter college right after the regulation is lifted, or attend colleges that are more dependent on tuition benefit less.

Making Schools Safer and/or Escalating Disciplinary Response: A Study of Police Officers in North Carolina Schools
Lucy Sorensen, Yinzhi Shen & Shawn Bushway
Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, forthcoming


The "defund the police" movement has recently called for the removal of police - or school resource officers (SROs) - from schools. This call is driven by concerns that SROs may heighten student contact with criminal justice or lead to disproportionately harsh disciplinary consequences. This study uses linked disciplinary, academic, juvenile justice, and adult conviction data from North Carolina to estimate the effects of middle school SROs on a variety of student outcomes. Our findings indicate that SROs not only decrease the incidence of serious violence but also increase the use of out-of-school suspensions, transfers, expulsions, and police referrals. This study provides new insights into the effects of police in schools and implies new directions for policies, training, and accountability.

Degrees of Support: State Spending on Higher Education and Public Postsecondary Degrees across State Legislatures, 2005 and 2014
Kristen Shorette, Megan Thiele & Catherine Bolzendahl
Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World, May 2021


U.S. state spending on higher education represents a sizable, but highly variable, portion of budget expenditures. Preliminary research supports a positive relationship between the percentage of state legislators who hold public degrees and state funding for higher education. In this study, the authors test whether this finding is consistent over time by using panel modeling to analyze the educational compositions of state legislatures in 2005 and 2014. Generalized least squares regression models with robust standard errors clustered by state- and year-specific intercepts indicate a significantly positive relationship between the proportion of publicly educated state legislators and state spending on higher education. This relationship is consistent across models with numerous robustness checks and political, economic, and structural controls. Given the smaller number of publicly educated legislators in 2014, the findings suggest that spending on higher education would have increased to a larger extent had the educational composition of the legislatures remained constant.

Does the Common Core Have a Common Effect? An Exploration of Effects on Academically Vulnerable Students
Joshua Bleiberg
AERA Open, April 2021


Policymakers have long sought to raise expectations for students through standards-based reform. I examine the extent to which the Common Core State Content Standards (CC) affected student achievement and the size of achievement gaps. I merge together data on preparation for and implementation of the CC with the National Assessment of Educational Progress student-level data. To identify the effect of CC on student outcomes, I compare early implementors of the CC to late implementors of the CC in a difference-in-differences framework. I find the initial effect of the CC on math scores was positive. The CC had a large positive initial effect on economically advantaged students but no detectable initial effect on economically disadvantaged students. Raising state expectations without addressing the structural issues burdening economically disadvantaged students may result in unintended consequences.

A Negotiated Disadvantage? California Collective Bargaining Agreements and Achievement Gaps
Bradley Marianno
Educational Researcher, forthcoming


Using panel data from three successive collective bargaining (CBA) negotiation cycles from 277 California school districts in a difference-in-differences framework, I investigate the relationship between changes in CBA restrictiveness and racial and economic achievement gaps over time. I find that achievement gaps in California are smaller where contracts increase in restrictiveness in class size and larger where contracts increase in restrictiveness in teacher evaluation and leave policies over time, though this is not the case for all student subgroups. These effects are primarily concentrated in math, are small in magnitude, and are sometimes delayed in their timing. Altogether, this study provides some evidence that contract changes are associated with the educational opportunities of school districts' diverse and economically disadvantaged students.

Disproportionate Burden: Estimating the Cost of FAFSA Verification for Public Colleges and Universities
Alberto Guzman-Alvarez & Lindsay Page
Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, forthcoming


Verification is a federally mandated process that requires selected students to further attest that the information reported on their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is accurate and complete. In this brief, we estimate institutional costs of administrating the FAFSA verification mandate and consider variation in costs by institution type and sector. Using data from 2014, we estimate that compliance costs to institutions in that year totaled nearly US$500 million with the burden falling disproportionately on public institutions and community colleges, in particular. Specifically, we estimate that 22% of an average community college's financial aid office operating budget is devoted to verification procedures, compared with 15% at public 4-year institutions. Our analysis is timely, given that rates of FAFSA verification have increased in recent years.

The Returns to Public Library Investment
Gregory Gilpin, Ezra Karger & Peter Nencka
Federal Reserve Working Paper, April 2021


Local governments spend over 12 billion dollars annually funding the operation of 15,000 public libraries in the United States. This funding supports widespread library use: more than 50% of Americans visit public libraries each year. But despite extensive public investment in libraries, surprisingly little research quantifies the effects of public libraries on communities and children. We use data on the near-universe of U.S. public libraries to study the effects of capital spending shocks on library resources, patron usage, student achievement, and local housing prices. We use a dynamic difference-in-difference approach to show that library capital investment increases children's attendance at library events by 18%, children's checkouts of items by 21%, and total library visits by 21%. Increases in library use translate into improved children's test scores in nearby school districts: a $1,000 or greater per-student capital investment in local public libraries increases reading test scores by 0.02 standard deviations and has no effects on math test scores. Housing prices do not change after a sharp increase in public library capital investment, suggesting that residents internalize the increased cost and improved quality of their public libraries.

When Scale and Replication Work: Learning from Summer Youth Employment Experiments
Sara Heller
NBER Working Paper, April 2021


Because successful human capital interventions often fail to scale or replicate, public investment decisions require understanding how program size, context, and implementation shape program effects. This paper uses two new randomized controlled trials of summer youth employment programs in Chicago and Philadelphia to demonstrate how multiple experiments can help explain replicability and inform the expansion of promising approaches. Even when these programs grow or change models across contexts, participation consistently reduces criminal justice involvement. It may also decrease the need for child protective services and behavioral health treatment. Experimental variation in program model and local provider generates no detectable heterogeneity, suggesting that effects replicate partly because variability in implementation does not matter. There is, however, individual-level heterogeneity that explains differences in effect magnitudes across populations and informs optimal targeting; youth at higher risk of socially costly outcomes experience larger benefits. Identifying more interventions that combine this pattern of treatment heterogeneity with robust replicability could aid efforts to reduce social inequality efficiently.

Are Artificially Intelligent Conversational Chatbots Uniformly Effective in Reducing Summer Melt? Evidence from a Randomized Controlled Trial
Aizat Nurshatayeva et al.
Research in Higher Education, May 2021, Pages 392-402


Our field experiment extends prior work on college matriculation by testing the extent to which an artificially intelligent (AI) chatbot's outreach and support to college students (N = 4442) reduced summer melt and improved first-year college enrollment at a 4-year university. Specifically, we investigate which students the intervention proves most effective for. We find that the AI chatbot increased overall success with navigating financial aid processes, such that student take up of educational loans increased by four percentage points. This financial aid effect was concentrated among would-be first-generation college goers, for whom loan acceptances increased by eight percentage points. In addition, the outreach increased first-generation students' success with course registration and fall semester enrollment each by three percentage points. Our findings suggest that proactive chatbot outreach to students is likely to be most successful in reducing summer melt among those who may need the chatbot support the most.


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