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Public Universities, Equal Opportunity, and the Legacy of Jim Crow: Evidence from North Carolina

Listed author(s):
  • Charles T. Clotfelter
  • Helen F. Ladd
  • Jacob L. Vigdor

College attendance and completion in the U.S. are strongly correlated with race and socioeconomic background. Do public postsecondary institutions themselves exacerbate pre-college disparities, or reduce them? We address this question using longitudinal data linking the records of students at North Carolina’s public four-year universities to their public K-12 records. As a result of an institutional structure forged during the period of Jim Crow segregation, black students who attend the state’s public university system are likely to experience markedly more racial isolation in college than they did in middle school. Another, more positive consequence of this structure is to boost in-state public four-year college enrollment and graduation by African-American students relative to white students with similar backgrounds. Conditional on enrolling in one of the state’s public universities, however, black students lag behind whites in grades and graduation rates. Regarding socioeconomic background, we find that lower-status youth are less likely to enter the system and less likely to succeed once they enter than those with higher status. The socioeconomic gap in graduation rates among matriculants has, however, declined in recent years.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 21577.

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Date of creation: Sep 2015
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:21577
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  1. John Bound & Michael F. Lovenheim & Sarah Turner, 2010. "Why Have College Completion Rates Declined? An Analysis of Changing Student Preparation and Collegiate Resources," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 2(3), pages 129-157, July.
  2. Roland G. Fryer & Michael Greenstone, 2010. "The Changing Consequences of Attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 2(1), pages 116-148, January.
  3. W. Lee Hansen & Burton A. Weisbrod, 1969. "The Distribution of Costs and Direct Benefits of Public Higher Education: The Case of California," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 4(2), pages 176-191.
  4. Clotfelter, Charles T. & Ladd, Helen F. & Vigdor, Jacob, 2005. "Who teaches whom? Race and the distribution of novice teachers," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 24(4), pages 377-392, August.
  5. Clotfelter, Charles T. & Ehrenberg, Ronald G. & Getz, Malcolm & Siegfried, John J., 1992. "Economic Challenges in Higher Education," National Bureau of Economic Research Books, University of Chicago Press, edition 1, number 9780226110509.
  6. Caroline M. Hoxby, 2009. "The Changing Selectivity of American Colleges," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 23(4), pages 95-118, Fall.
  7. Charles T. Clotfelter & Ronald G. Ehrenberg & Malcolm Getz & John J. Siegfried, 1991. "Introduction to "Economic Challenges in Higher Education"," NBER Chapters,in: Economic Challenges in Higher Education, pages 1-16 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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