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Tuition Fees as a Commitment Device


  • Ketel, Nadine

    () (University of Gothenburg)

  • Linde, Jona

    () (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)

  • Oosterbeek, Hessel

    () (University of Amsterdam)

  • van der Klaauw, Bas

    () (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)


This paper reports on a field experiment testing for sunk-cost effects in an education setting. Students signing up for extra-curricular tutorial sessions randomly received a discount on the tuition fee. The sunk-cost effect predicts that students who receive larger discounts will attend fewer tutorial sessions. For the full sample, we find little support for this hypothesis, but we find a significant effect of sunk costs on attendance for the 45% of students in our sample who are categorized as sunk-cost prone based on hypothetical survey questions. For them higher tuition fees can serve as a commitment device to attend classes.

Suggested Citation

  • Ketel, Nadine & Linde, Jona & Oosterbeek, Hessel & van der Klaauw, Bas, 2014. "Tuition Fees as a Commitment Device," IZA Discussion Papers 7951, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp7951

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Jessica Cohen & Pascaline Dupas, 2008. "Free Distribution or Cost-Sharing? Evidence from a Malaria Prevention Experiment," NBER Working Papers 14406, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Edwin Leuven & Hessel Oosterbeek & Joep Sonnemans & Bas van der Klaauw, 2011. "Incentives versus Sorting in Tournaments: Evidence from a Field Experiment," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 29(3), pages 637-658.
    3. Theo Offerman & Jan Potters, 2006. "Does Auctioning of Entry Licences Induce Collusion? An Experimental Study," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 73(3), pages 769-791.
    4. Hidalgo, Diana & Onofa, Mercedes & Oosterbeek, Hessel & Ponce, Juan, 2013. "Can provision of free school uniforms harm attendance? Evidence from Ecuador," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 103(C), pages 43-51.
    5. Susan M. Dynarski, 2003. "Does Aid Matter? Measuring the Effect of Student Aid on College Attendance and Completion," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(1), pages 279-288, March.
    6. Daniel Friedman & Kai Pommerenke & Rajan Lukose & Garrett Milam & Bernardo Huberman, 2007. "Searching for the sunk cost fallacy," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 10(1), pages 79-104, March.
    7. Wilbert van der Klaauw, 2002. "Estimating the Effect of Financial Aid Offers on College Enrollment: A Regression-Discontinuity Approach," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 43(4), pages 1249-1287, November.
    8. Nava Ashraf & James Berry & Jesse M. Shapiro, 2010. "Can Higher Prices Stimulate Product Use? Evidence from a Field Experiment in Zambia," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 100(5), pages 2383-2413, December.
    9. Uri Gneezy & John A List, 2006. "Putting Behavioral Economics to Work: Testing for Gift Exchange in Labor Markets Using Field Experiments," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 74(5), pages 1365-1384, September.
    10. Jessica Cohen & Pascaline Dupas, 2010. "Free Distribution or Cost-Sharing? Evidence from a Randomized Malaria Prevention Experiment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 125(1), pages 1-45.
    11. Meyer, Donald J., 1993. "First price auctions with entry: An experimental investigation," The Quarterly Review of Economics and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 33(2), pages 107-122.
    12. Arkes, Hal R. & Blumer, Catherine, 1985. "The psychology of sunk cost," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 35(1), pages 124-140, February.
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    More about this item


    sunk-cost effect; higher education; field experiment;

    JEL classification:

    • C93 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Field Experiments
    • D03 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Behavioral Microeconomics: Underlying Principles
    • I22 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Educational Finance; Financial Aid

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