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The Changing Selectivity of American Colleges

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  • Caroline M. Hoxby

Abstract

Over the past few decades, the average college has not become more selective: the reverse is true, though not dramatically. People who believe that college selectivity is increasing may be extrapolating from the experience of a small number of colleges such as members of the Ivy League, Stanford, Duke, and so on. These colleges have experienced rising selectivity, but their experience turns out to be the exception rather than the rule. Only the top 10 percent of colleges are substantially more selective now than they were in 1962. Moreover, at least 50 percent of colleges are substantially less selective now than they were in 1962. To understand changing selectivity, we must focus on how the market for college education has re-sorted students among schools as the costs of distance and information have fallen. In the past, students' choices were very sensitive to the distance of a college from their home, but today, students, especially high-aptitude students, are far more sensitive to a college's resources and student body. It is the consequent re-sorting of students among colleges that has, at once, caused selectivity to rise in a small number of colleges while simultaneously causing it to fall in other colleges. This has had profound implications for colleges' resources, tuition, and subsidies for students. I demonstrate that the stakes associated with choosing a college are greater today than they were four decades ago because very selective colleges are offering very large per-student resources and per-student subsidies, enabling admitted students to make massive human capital investments.

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File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/jep.23.4.95
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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal Journal of Economic Perspectives.

Volume (Year): 23 (2009)
Issue (Month): 4 (Fall)
Pages: 95-118

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Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:23:y:2009:i:4:p:95-118

Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.23.4.95
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References

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  1. Sallee James M & Resch Alexandra M & Courant Paul N, 2008. "On the Optimal Allocation of Students and Resources in a System of Higher Education," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 8(1), pages 1-26, June.
  2. Caroline M. Hoxby, 1997. "How the Changing Market Structure of U.S. Higher Education Explains College Tuition," NBER Working Papers 6323, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Dominic J. Brewer & Eric Eide & Ronald G. Ehrenberg, 1996. "Does It Pay To Attend An Elite Private College? Cross Cohort Evidence on the Effects of College Quality on Earnings," NBER Working Papers 5613, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Monks, James, 2000. "The returns to individual and college characteristics: Evidence from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 19(3), pages 279-289, June.
  5. Rothschild, Michael & White, Lawrence J, 1995. "The Analytics of the Pricing of Higher Education and Other Services in Which the Customers Are Inputs," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 103(3), pages 573-86, June.
  6. Gordon C. Winston, 1999. "Subsidies, Hierarchy and Peers: The Awkward Economics of Higher Education," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 13(1), pages 13-36, Winter.
  7. Dan A. Black & Jeffrey A. Smith, 2006. "Estimating the Returns to College Quality with Multiple Proxies for Quality," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 24(3), pages 701-728, July.
  8. Michael Rothschild & Lawrence J. White, 1991. "The University in the Marketplace: Some Insights and Some Puzzles," NBER Working Papers 3853, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Stacy Berg Dale & Alan B. Krueger, 1999. "Estimating the Payoff to Attending a More Selective College: An Application of Selection on Observables and Unobservables," NBER Working Papers 7322, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Dennis Epple & Richard Romano & Holger Sieg, 2006. "Admission, Tuition, and Financial Aid Policies in the Market for Higher Education," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 74(4), pages 885-928, 07.
  11. Charles T. Clotfelter, 1996. "Buying the Best: Cost Escalation in Elite Higher Education," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number clot96-1.
  12. Caroline M. Hoxby & Bridget Terry, 1999. "Explaining Rising Income and wage Inequality Among the College Educated," NBER Working Papers 6873, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  1. The changing selectivity of US colleges
    by Economic Logician in Economic Logic on 2009-12-08 00:55:00
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