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An Empirical Investigation of the Option Value of College Enrollment


  • Kevin M. Stange


This paper quantifies the option value arising from sequential schooling decisions made in the presence of uncertainty and learning about academic ability. College attendance has option value since enrolled students have the option, but not obligation, to continue in school after learning their aptitude and tastes. I estimate that option value accounts for 14 percent of the total value of the opportunity to attend college for the average high school graduate and is greatest for moderate-aptitude students. Students' ability to make decisions sequentially in response to new information increases welfare and also makes educational outcomes less polarized by background. (JEL D83, I23)

Suggested Citation

  • Kevin M. Stange, 2012. "An Empirical Investigation of the Option Value of College Enrollment," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 4(1), pages 49-84, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:aejapp:v:4:y:2012:i:1:p:49-84 Note: DOI: 10.1257/app.4.1.49

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Jaeger, David A & Page, Marianne E, 1996. "Degrees Matter: New Evidence on Sheepskin Effects in the Returns to Education," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 78(4), pages 733-740, November.
    2. Rust, John, 1987. "Optimal Replacement of GMC Bus Engines: An Empirical Model of Harold Zurcher," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 55(5), pages 999-1033, September.
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    4. Pugatch, Todd, 2012. "Bumpy Rides: School to Work Transitions in South Africa," IZA Discussion Papers 6305, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    5. Philip Oreopoulos & Till von Wachter & Andrew Heisz, 2006. "The Short- and Long-Term Career Effects of Graduating in a Recession: Hysteresis and Heterogeneity in the Market for College Graduates," NBER Working Papers 12159, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Avinash K. Dixit & Robert S. Pindyck, 1994. "Investment under Uncertainty," Economics Books, Princeton University Press, edition 1, number 5474.
    7. Taber, Christopher R., 2000. "Semiparametric identification and heterogeneity in discrete choice dynamic programming models," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 96(2), pages 201-229, June.
    8. Dothan, Uri & Williams, Joseph, 1981. "Education as an Option," The Journal of Business, University of Chicago Press, vol. 54(1), pages 117-139, January.
    9. Kane, Thomas J & Rouse, Cecilia Elena, 1995. "Labor-Market Returns to Two- and Four-Year College," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 85(3), pages 600-614, June.
    10. Stacey H. Chen, 2008. "Estimating the Variance of Wages in the Presence of Selection and Unobserved Heterogeneity," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 90(2), pages 275-289, May.
    11. Heckman, James J. & Navarro, Salvador, 2007. "Dynamic discrete choice and dynamic treatment effects," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 136(2), pages 341-396, February.
    12. Burton A. Weisbrod, 1962. "Education and Investment in Human Capital," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 70, pages 106-106.
    13. Comay, Yochanan & Melnik, A & Pollatschek, M A, 1973. "The Option Value of Education and the Optimal Path for Investment in Human Capital," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 14(2), pages 421-435, June.
    14. Courtney Coile & Jonathan Gruber, 2007. "Future Social Security Entitlements and the Retirement Decision," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 89(2), pages 234-246, May.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D83 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Search; Learning; Information and Knowledge; Communication; Belief; Unawareness
    • I23 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Higher Education; Research Institutions


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