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Does Aid Matter? Measuring the Effect of Student Aid on College Attendance and Completion

  • Susan M. Dynarski

Does student aid increase college attendance or simply subsidize costs for infra-marginal students? Settling the question empirically is a challenge, because aid is correlated with many characteristics that influence educational investment decisions. A shift in financial aid policy that affects some youth but not others can provide an identifying source of variation in aid. In 1982, Congress eliminated the Social Security Student Benefit Program, which at its peak provided grants totaling $3.7 billion a year to one out of ten college students. Using the death of a parent as a proxy for Social Security beneficiary status, I find that offering $1,000 ($1998) of grant aid increases educational attainment by about 0.16 years and the probability of attending college by four percentage points. The elasticities of attendance and completed years of college with respect to schooling costs are 0.7 to 0.8. The evidence suggests that aid has a 'threshold effect': a student who has crossed the hurdle of college entry with the assistance of aid is more likely to continue schooling later in life than one who has never attempted college. This is consistent with a model in which there are fixed costs of college entry. Finally, a cost-benefit analysis indicates that the aid program examined by this paper was a cost-effective use of government resources.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 7422.

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Date of creation: Nov 1999
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Publication status: published as Dynarski, Susan M. "Does Aid Matter? Measuring The Effect Of Student Aid On College Attendance And Completion," American Economic Review, 2003, v93(1,Mar), 279-288.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:7422
Note: CH PE
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  1. Thomas J. Kane, 1995. "Rising Public College Tuition and College Entry: How Well Do Public Subsidies Promote Access to College?," NBER Working Papers 5164, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Neil S. Seftor & NSarah E. Turner, 2002. "Back to School: Federal Student Aid Policy and Adult College Enrollment," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 37(2), pages 336-352.
  3. Angrist, J.D. & Imbens, G.W., 1992. "Average Causal Response with Variable Treatment Intensity," Papers 9234, Tilburg - Center for Economic Research.
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  6. Dynarski, Susan, 2000. "Hope for Whom? Financial Aid for the Middle Class and Its Impact on College Attendance," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 53(n. 3), pages 629-62, September.
  7. John Bound & Sarah E. Turner, 1999. "Going to War and Going to College: Did World War II and the G.I. Bill Increase Educational Attainment for Returning Veterans?," NBER Working Papers 7452, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Robin L. Lumsdaine & James H. Stock & David A. Wise, 1995. "Why are Retirement Rates So High at Age 65?," NBER Working Papers 5190, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  11. Susan Dynarski, 2000. "Hope for Whom? Financial Aid for the Middle Class and Its Impact on College Attendance," NBER Working Papers 7756, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Kane, Thomas J, 1994. "College Entry by Blacks since 1970: The Role of College Costs, Family Background, and the Returns to Education," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 102(5), pages 878-911, October.
  13. Turner, Sarah & Bound, John, 2003. "Closing the Gap or Widening the Divide: The Effects of the G.I. Bill and World War II on the Educational Outcomes of Black Americans," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 63(01), pages 145-177, March.
  14. 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.
  15. Gruber, Jonathan, 1994. "The Incidence of Mandated Maternity Benefits," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(3), pages 622-41, June.
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  17. Aigner, Dennis J., 1973. "Regression with a binary independent variable subject to errors of observation," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 1(1), pages 49-59, March.
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