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Option Value and Transitions in a Model of Postsecondary Education


  • Nicholas Trachter



Option value arises in environments where an investment needs to be made under uncertainty. The decision to invest in postsecondary education is a perfect example. Students, as they learn about the uncertain educational outcomes, can drop out or transfer up to harder and more rewarding schools or even down to easier and less rewarding institutions, carrying a fraction of the accumulated human capital; here, academic 2-year colleges serve as a stepping stone towards more demanding environments as it provides a cheaper learning technology. A positive theory of postsecondary education is built and contrasted empirically. Using an estimated version of the model, it is found that option value explains a large share of the returns to postsecondary education. The elimination of academic 2-colleges, with freshmen enrollment of nearly 40% of that of 4-year colleges, would decrease total enrollment by 6% with very limited effect on the ex-ante returns to education.

Suggested Citation

  • Nicholas Trachter, 2011. "Option Value and Transitions in a Model of Postsecondary Education," EIEF Working Papers Series 1103, Einaudi Institute for Economics and Finance (EIEF), revised Jan 2011.
  • Handle: RePEc:eie:wpaper:1103

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Flavio Cunha & James Heckman & Salvador Navarro, 2005. "Separating uncertainty from heterogeneity in life cycle earnings," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 57(2), pages 191-261, April.
    2. Philippe Belley & Lance Lochner, 2007. "The Changing Role of Family Income and Ability in Determining Educational Achievement," Journal of Human Capital, University of Chicago Press, vol. 1(1), pages 37-89.
    3. Fane Groes & Philipp Kircher & Iourii Manovskii, 2015. "The U-Shapes of Occupational Mobility," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 82(2), pages 659-692.
    4. Leahy, John V & Whited, Toni M, 1996. "The Effect of Uncertainty on Investment: Some Stylized Facts," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 28(1), pages 64-83, February.
    5. William R. Johnson, 1978. "A Theory of Job Shopping," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 92(2), pages 261-277.
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    Cited by:

    1. Filippin, Antonio & Paccagnella, Marco, 2012. "Family background, self-confidence and economic outcomes," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 31(5), pages 824-834.
    2. Ali K. Ozdagli & Nicholas Trachter, 2011. "On the Distribution of College Dropouts: Wealth and Uninsurable Idiosyncratic Risk," EIEF Working Papers Series 1105, Einaudi Institute for Economics and Finance (EIEF), revised Mar 2011.
    3. Ali K. Ozdagli & Nicholas Trachter, 2011. "On the distribution of college dropouts: household wealth and uninsurable idiosyncratic risk," Working Papers 11-8, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

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