Merit aid, student mobility, and the role of college selectivity
In this paper, we investigate the role of college selectivity in mobility decisions (both in-state and out-of-state) of freshmen students following Georgia’s HOPE scholarship program. How did HOPE affect the selectivity of colleges attended by Georgia’s freshmen students? Did it induce Georgia’s freshmen students who would have otherwise attended more selective out-of-state colleges to instead attend less selective in-state ones? Or was there movement to more selective ones, both in-state and out-of-state? Using student residency and enrollment data from IPEDS and selectivity data from Barron’s and Peterson’s, we find that in the aftermath of HOPE, Georgia freshmen attended relatively more selective colleges overall. Disaggregating further, we find that Georgia freshmen attending in-state colleges attended more selective ones. Georgia freshmen attending out-of-state colleges were also more likely to attend more selective colleges, most likely due to an increase in the reservation price to go to out-of-state colleges following HOPE. Our results are robust to a variety of sensitivity checks and have important policy implications. In particular, Peltzman had observed in his classic 1973 paper that in-kind subsidies can induce individuals to invest in less quality-adjusted human capital than they might otherwise. The fact that Georgia freshmen attended relatively more selective colleges in the post-HOPE period allays, to some extent, the concern that state merit aid programs can adversely affect long-term outcomes and human capital formation.
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