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Experimental Evidence on the Effect of Childhood Investments on Postsecondary Attainment and Degree Completion

  • Susan Dynarski
  • Joshua M. Hyman
  • Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach

This paper examines the effect of early childhood investments on college enrollment and degree completion. We use the random assignment in the Project STAR experiment to estimate the effect of smaller classes in primary school on college entry, college choice, and degree completion. We improve on existing work in this area with unusually detailed data on college enrollment spells and the previously unexplored outcome of college degree completion. We find that assignment to a small class increases the probability of attending college by 2.7 percentage points, with effects more than twice as large among blacks. Among students enrolled in the poorest third of schools, the effect is 7.3 percentage points. Smaller classes increase the likelihood of earning a college degree by 1.6 percentage points and shift students towards high-earning fields such as STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), business and economics. We find that test score effects at the time of the experiment are an excellent predictor of long-term improvements in postsecondary outcomes.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 17533.

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Date of creation: Oct 2011
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Experimental Evidence on the Effect of Childhood Investments on Postsecondary Attainment and Degree Completion (with Joshua Hyman and Diane Schanzenbach). 2013. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 32:4, pp. 692-717 (lead article). Ray Vernon Memorial Prize for best paper in JPAM.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17533
Contact details of provider: Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
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  1. Dee, Thomas S., 2004. "Are there civic returns to education?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(9-10), pages 1697-1720, August.
  2. Dynarski, Susan, 2001. "Does Aid Matter? Measuring the Effect of Student Aid on College Attendance and Completion," Working Paper Series rwp01-034, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
  3. Hamermesh, Daniel S. & Donald, Stephen G., 2008. "The effect of college curriculum on earnings: An affinity identifier for non-ignorable non-response bias," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 144(2), pages 479-491, June.
  4. John Bound & Michael Lovenheim & Sarah Turner, 2009. "Why Have College Completion Rates Declined? An Analysis of Changing Student Preparation and Collegiate Resources," NBER Working Papers 15566, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Black, Philip & Calitz, Estian & Steenekamp, Tjaart & Siebrits, Krige (ed.), 2011. "Public Economics," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, edition 5, number 9780195995152.
  6. Raj Chetty & John N. Friedman & Nathaniel Hilger & Emmanuel Saez & Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach & Danny Yagan, 2011. "How Does Your Kindergarten Classroom Affect Your Earnings? Evidence from Project Star," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 126(4), pages 1593-1660.
  7. Arcidiacono, Peter, 2002. "Ability Sorting and the Returns to College Major," Working Papers 02-26, Duke University, Department of Economics.
  8. Eric P. Bettinger & Bridget Terry Long & Philip Oreopoulos & Lisa Sanbonmatsu, 2009. "The Role of Simplification and Information in College Decisions: Results from the H&R Block FAFSA Experiment," NBER Working Papers 15361, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Atila Abdulkadiroglu & Joshua Angrist & Susan Dynarski & Thomas J. Kane & Parag Pathak, 2009. "Accountability and Flexibility in Public Schools: Evidence from Boston's Charters and Pilots," NBER Working Papers 15549, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. David Deming, 2009. "Early Childhood Intervention and Life-Cycle Skill Development: Evidence from Head Start," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 1(3), pages 111-34, July.
  11. Lisa Barrow & Lashawn Richburg-Hayes & Cecilia Elena Rouse & Thomas Brock, 2014. "Paying for Performance: The Education Impacts of a Community College Scholarship Program for Low-Income Adults," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 32(3), pages 563 - 599.
  12. David J. Deming & Justine S. Hastings & Thomas J. Kane & Douglas O. Staiger, 2014. "School Choice, School Quality, and Postsecondary Attainment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 104(3), pages 991-1013, March.
  13. Joshua D. Angrist & Susan M. Dynarski & Thomas J. Kane & Parag A. Pathak & Christopher R. Walters, 2010. "Who Benefits from KIPP?," NBER Working Papers 15740, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Anderson, Michael L., 2008. "Multiple Inference and Gender Differences in the Effects of Early Intervention: A Reevaluation of the Abecedarian, Perry Preschool, and Early Training Projects," Journal of the American Statistical Association, American Statistical Association, vol. 103(484), pages 1481-1495.
  15. Caroline M. Hoxby & Sonali Murarka, 2009. "Charter Schools in New York City: Who Enrolls and How They Affect Their Students' Achievement," NBER Working Papers 14852, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  16. Carneiro, Pedro & Heckman, James J., 2003. "Human Capital Policy," IZA Discussion Papers 821, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
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