Research

Publications

"College on the Cheap: Consequences of Community College Tuition Reductions" Forthcoming, American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, May 2017 Online Appendix
   
This paper examines the effects of community college tuition on college enrollment. I exploit quasi-experimental variation from discounts for community college tuition in Texas that were expanded over time and across geography for identification. Community college enrollment in the first year after high school increased by 5.1 percentage points for each $1,000 decrease in tuition which implies an elasticity of -.29. Lower tuition also increased transfer from community colleges to universities. Marginal community college enrollees induced to attend by reduced tuition have similar graduation rates as average community college enrollees
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    Media Coverage: Washington Post

"Was that SMART? Institutional Financial Incentives and Field of Study" with Patrick Turley, Journal of Human Resources, Winter 2017

We examine whether students respond to immediate financial incentives when choosing their college major. From 2006 to 2011, low-income students in technical or foreign language majors could receive up to $8,000 in SMART Grants. Since income-eligibility was determined using a strict threshold, we determine the causal impact of this grant on student major with a regression discontinuity design. Using administrative data from public universities in Texas, we determine that income-eligible students were 3.2 percentage points more likely than their ineligible peers to major in targeted fields. We also examine Brigham Young University, which had the most SMART Grants awarded in the first year of the grant, and measure a larger impact of 10.2 percentage points.

Working Papers

Many studies have considered the effect of financial aid on students’ decision to enroll in college. However, this paper focuses on the effect of financial aid on students who are already enrolled in college. In order to examine already enrolled students, I leverage an increase in federal financial aid that did not affect students’ decision to enroll. This paper investigates the effects of additional financial aid on graduation, credits attempted, grade point average, time to degree, and earnings during school. I combine a discrete change in the amount of federal financial aid available to financially independent students with administrative records from Texas’ public universities and unemployment insurance earnings records in a regression discontinuity framework. Additional financial aid accelerates graduation for university seniors. This occurs because students attempt more credits but do not reduce their grade point average. I also document that increased financial aid reduces labor supply during college and eases binding credit constraints.

"Is Information Enough? Evidence from a Tax Credit Information Experiment with 1,000,000 Studentswith Peter Bergman and Dayanand Manoli, Under Review

This study examines the effect of information about tax credits for college using a sample of over 1 million students or prospective students in Texas. We sent emails and letters to students that described tax credits for college and tracked college outcomes. We find that for all three of our samples--already enrolled students, students who had previously applied to college but were not currently enrolled, and rising high school seniors--that information about tax credits for college did not affect reenrollment, application, and enrollment respectively. We test whether effects vary according to information frames and found that no treatment arms changed student outcomes. We discuss reasons why we found no effect and insights into what attributes make low-cost information interventions effective.

Works in Progress


"ProPelled: The Effect of Grants on Graduation and Earnings" with Benjamin Marx and Lesley Turner

We estimate the effect of grant aid on poor students’ college graduation and earnings using administrative data on students attending four-year public colleges in Texas. To identify these effects, we exploit a discontinuity in grant generosity as a function of family income. While eligibility for additional grant aid has small contemporaneous effects on attainment, it significantly increases four-, five-, and six-year graduation rates. Corresponding to the positive impacts on graduation, eligibility generates persistent increases in earnings beginning four years after entry. We project that within ten years, the additional federal income tax revenue generated from eligible students’ earnings gains would be sufficient for the government to fully recoup the cost of the additional grant aid provided to eligible students. We develop a theoretical model to interpret these results and derive welfare implications. While increases in grant generosity would be welfare improving in the setting we examine, our framework can be applied in a variety of other scenarios where welfare implications are less clear-cut.

"College Selectivity and Labor Market Outcomes: Evidence from the Texas Ten Percent Plan" with Sandra Black and Jesse Rothstein

The effect of college selectivity on graduates' long-run outcomes is at the center of several literatures. The literature on college access presumes that the effect is positive, and that policy should aim to move (qualified) disadvantaged students into more selective schools. But the literature on potential mismatch effects of affirmative action presumes the opposite, that students will thrive when their preparedness resembles that of their classmates. Unfortunately, credible evidence about the effect of selectivity is quite thin. We use variation in college selectivity induced by the Texas Ten Percent Plan, together with matched data tracking students from high school through to the labor market, to identify the causal effect of attending a flagship state university on adult employment outcomes. The Ten Percent Plan meant that many students were admitted to the University of Texas at Austin (UT) from high schools that previously sent few graduates. These students were less qualified than the typical UT matriculant on observable dimensions. If mismatch effects are important, they would have done less well than in the pre-policy regime, where weak students from "feeder" schools would have done better; positive selectivity effects imply the opposite. We use a differences-in-differences design to distinguish these hypotheses.

"Where Do I Stand? The Impact of Class Rank on Later Life Outcomes" with Richard Murphy and Felix Weinhardt

We use administrative data from Texas to establish the effect of a student's relative rank within their cohort on later life outcomes. We measure a student's rank relative to their cohort in third grade and exploit idiosyncratic variation in their rank of ability within their cohort. We consider outcomes including later performance in school, advanced course taking, high school graduation, college enrollment, and earnings.