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Returns to Education Quality for Low-Skilled Students: Evidence from a Discontinuity


  • Serena Canaan
  • Pierre Mouganie


This paper studies the labor market returns to higher-education quality for low-skilled students. Using a regression discontinuity design, we compare students who marginally pass and marginally fail the French high school exit exam on the first attempt. Threshold crossing leads to an improvement in quality but has no effect on quantity of higher education pursued. Specifically, students who marginally pass are more likely to enroll in STEM majors and postsecondary institutions with better peers. Marginally passing also increases earnings by 12.5% at the ages of 27–29.

Suggested Citation

  • Serena Canaan & Pierre Mouganie, 2018. "Returns to Education Quality for Low-Skilled Students: Evidence from a Discontinuity," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 36(2), pages 395-436.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:jlabec:doi:10.1086/694468
    DOI: 10.1086/694468

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    Cited by:

    1. Mark Hoekstra & Pierre Mouganie & Yaojing Wang, 2018. "Peer Quality and the Academic Benefits to Attending Better Schools," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 36(4), pages 841-884.
    2. Nicolás de Roux & Evan Riehl, 2019. "Isolating Peer Effects in the Returns to College Selectivity," Documentos CEDE 017413, Universidad de los Andes - CEDE.
    3. Joshua Goodman & Oded Gurantz & Jonathan Smith, 2020. "Take Two! SAT Retaking and College Enrollment Gaps," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 12(2), pages 115-158, May.
    4. Severen, Christopher & Plantinga, Andrew J., 2018. "Land-use regulations, property values, and rents: Decomposing the effects of the California Coastal Act," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 107(C), pages 65-78.
    5. Bleemer , Zachary, 2018. "The Effect Of Selective Public Research University Enrollment: Evidence From California," University of California at Berkeley, Center for Studies in Higher Education qt2b22k86h, Center for Studies in Higher Education, UC Berkeley.
    6. repec:cep:cverdp:014 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Hersch, Joni, 2019. "Catching Up Is Hard to Do: Undergraduate Prestige, Elite Graduate Programs, and the Earnings Premium," Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis, Cambridge University Press, vol. 10(3), pages 503-553, October.
    8. Jonathan Smith & Joshua Goodman & Michael Hurwitz, 2020. "The Economic Impact of Access to Public Four-Year Colleges," NBER Working Papers 27177, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Canaan, Serena & Deeb, Antoine & Mouganie, Pierre, 2019. "Advisor Value-Added and Student Outcomes: Evidence from Randomly Assigned College Advisors," IZA Discussion Papers 12739, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    10. Eric J. Brunner & Shaun Dougherty & Stephen L. Ross, 2019. "The Effects of Career and Technical Education: Evidence from the Connecticut Technical High School System," Working papers 2019-13, University of Connecticut, Department of Economics.
    11. Brian Duncan & Hani Mansour & Bryson Rintala, 2019. "Weighing The Military Option: The Effects Of Wartime Conditions On Investments In Human Capital," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 57(1), pages 264-282, January.
    12. Thomas S. Dee & Will Dobbie & Brian A. Jacob & Jonah Rockoff, 2019. "The Causes and Consequences of Test Score Manipulation: Evidence from the New York Regents Examinations," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 11(3), pages 382-423, July.
    13. Georg Graetz & Björn Öckert & Oskar Nordström Skans, 2020. "Family Background and the Responses to Higher SAT Scores," CESifo Working Paper Series 8362, CESifo.
    14. Machin, Stephen & McNally, Sandra & Ruiz-Valenzuela, Jenifer, 2018. "Entry Through the Narrow Door: The Costs of Just Failing High Stakes Exams," IZA Discussion Papers 11476, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    15. Canaan, Serena & Mouganie, Pierre, 2019. "Female Science Advisors and the STEM Gender Gap," IZA Discussion Papers 12415, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    16. Suqin Ge & Elliott Isaac & Amalia Miller, 2018. "Elite Schools and Opting In: Effects of College Selectivity on Career and Family Outcomes," NBER Working Papers 25315, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    17. Bleemer, Zachary, 2018. "The Effect of Selective Public Research University Enrollment: Evidence from California," Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, Working Paper Series qt1cs1x5k2, Institute of Industrial Relations, UC Berkeley.
    18. Jack Mountjoy & Brent Hickman, 2020. "The Returns to College(s): Estimating Value-Added and Match Effects in Higher Education," Working Papers 2020-08, Becker Friedman Institute for Research In Economics.
    19. Ribas, Rafael P. & Sampaio, Breno & Trevisan, Giuseppe, 2020. "Short- and long-term effects of class assignment: Evidence from a flagship university in Brazil," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 64(C).

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