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Winners and losers? The effect of gaining and losing access to selective colleges on education and labor market outcomes

What is this research about and why did you do it?

Selective college admissions are fundamentally a question of tradeoffs: Given capacity, admitting one student means rejecting another. Assessing an admissions policy change requires understanding both the effect of attending the selective college on the students admitted under the policy and the effect on the students who are displaced.  We examine the effects of the Top Ten Percent policy, which guaranteed students in the top ten percent of their high school graduating class admission to Texas Public Universities, identifying the effects on the students who were newly admitted as a result of the policy change as well as the effects on those students who were pushed out as a result of the policy.

How did you answer this question?

After the implementation of the policy, Pulled In students were more likely to enroll in Texas public colleges and universities overall.  Pulled In students were more likely to graduate from UTA but also more likely to graduate with a BA degree from any public university in Texas. Importantly, the graduation rate of the Pulled In students who enrolled at UTA was very similar to that of the average UTA student, suggesting these students performed well once they entered UTA with little evidence of mismatch. Pushed Out students were no less likely to attend public colleges or universities in Texas, but rather shifted away from UTA to other, less selective campuses. Despite attending less selective institutions, Pushed Out students were no less likely to graduate with a bachelor's degree from any Texas public institution, nor did they suffer any earnings consequences.

Event study of effect of the Top Ten Percent Policy (TTP) on college completion (BA attainment) for students in Pulled In and Pushed Out groups. The figure plots the change in 4-year College completion as a result of TTP.  Figures shows point estimates and 95% confidence intervals for the effects of TTP on Pulled In (Green Dots) and Pushed Out (Red Squares), where year zero is the year TTP was implementedWe define Pulled In students as those who were in the top ten percent of their class to schools that did not send many students to UT Austin prior to the Top 10 Percent Policy.  Pushed Out students are those who were just outside the top ten percent of their class at schools that, prior to the policy, sent many students to UT Austin.  The dependent variable is an indicator for attainment of a bachelor’s degree from any Texas public institution within six years following high school.

What implications does this have for the teaching of wealth concentration or economic inequality?

This research suggests an important role for admission policies in equalizing opportunities for students from less advantaged schools.

What are the next steps in your agenda?

Future work will examine the effects of a child’s college attendance on parent’s wealth and financial well-being, as well as the role of financial aid on student economic success.

Citation and related research

This paper can be cited as follows: Black, S. E., Jeffrey, T. D., and Rothstein, J. (Forthcoming) 'Winners and Losers? The Effect of Gaining and Losing Access to Selective Colleges on Education and Labor Market Outcomes.' American Economic Journal: Applied Economics.

A free, working-paper version of this research is available from the NBER website.

About the authors

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