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A New Measure of College Quality to Study the Effects of College Sector and Peers on Degree Attainment

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  • Jonathan Smith
  • Kevin Stange

Abstract

Students starting at a two-year college are much less likely to graduate with a college degree than similar students who start at a four-year college but the sources of this attainment gap are largely unexplained. In this paper we simultaneously investigate the attainment consequences of sector choice and peer quality among over 3 million recent high school graduates. This analysis is enabled by data on all PSAT test-takers between 2004 and 2006 from which we develop a novel measure of peer ability for most two-year and four-year colleges in the United States- the average PSAT of enrolled students. We document substantial variation in average peer quality at two-year colleges across and within states and non-trivial overlap across sectors, neither of which has previously been documented. We find that half the gap in bachelor’s attainment rates between students who start at two-year versus four-year institutions is explained by differences in peers, leaving room for structural barriers to transferring between institutions to also play an important role. Also, having better peers is associated with higher attainment in both sectors, though its effects are quite a bit larger in the four-year sector. Thus, the allocation of students between and within sectors, some of which is driven by state policy decisions, has important consequences for the educational attainment of the nation’s workforce.

Suggested Citation

  • Jonathan Smith & Kevin Stange, 2015. "A New Measure of College Quality to Study the Effects of College Sector and Peers on Degree Attainment," NBER Working Papers 21605, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:21605
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Scott E. Carrell & Michal Kurlaender, 2016. "Estimating the Productivity of Community Colleges in Paving the Road to Four-Year Success," NBER Working Papers 22904, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Joshua Goodman & Michael Hurwitz & Christine Mulhern & Jonathan Smith, 2019. "O Brother, Where Start Thou? Sibling Spillovers in College Enrollment," NBER Working Papers 26502, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Joshua Goodman & Michael Hurwitz & Jonathan Smith, "undated". "Access to Four-Year Public Colleges and Degree Completion," Working Paper 175226, Harvard University OpenScholar.
    4. Loris P Fagioli & Rachel Baker & Gabe Avakian Orona, 2020. "The Role of Non-cognitive Variables in Identifying Community College Students in Need of Targeted Supports," Research in Higher Education, Springer;Association for Institutional Research, vol. 61(6), pages 725-763, September.
    5. Kreisman, Daniel & Smith, Jonathan & Arifin, Bondi, 2021. "Labor Market Signaling and the Value of College: Evidence from Resumes and the Truth," IZA Discussion Papers 14483, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    6. Dinarte Diaz,Lelys Ileana & Ferreyra,Maria Marta & Urzua,Sergio & Bassi,Marina, 2021. "What Makes a Program Good ? Evidence from Short-Cycle Higher Education Programs in Latin America and the Caribbean," Policy Research Working Paper Series 9722, The World Bank.
    7. Ferreyra,Maria Marta & Franco Hernandez,Andrea & Melguizo,Tatiana & Sanchez Diaz,Angelica Maria, 2020. "Estimating the Contribution of Short-Cycle Programs to Student Outcomes in Colombia," Policy Research Working Paper Series 9424, The World Bank.
    8. Scott E. Carrell & Michal Kurlaender, 2018. "Estimating the Productivity of Community Colleges in Paving the Road to Four-Year College Success," NBER Chapters, in: Productivity in Higher Education, pages 291-315, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Bernal, Pedro & Mittag, Nikolas & Qureshi, Javaeria A., 2016. "Estimating effects of school quality using multiple proxies," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 39(C), pages 1-10.
    10. repec:hrv:hksfac:34298861 is not listed on IDEAS
    11. Goodman, Joshua & Hurwitz, Michael & Smith, Jonathan, 2015. "College Access, Initial College Choice and Degree Completion," Working Paper Series rwp14-030, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I21 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Analysis of Education
    • I23 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Higher Education; Research Institutions

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