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The Changing Roles of Family Income and Academic Ability for US College Attendance

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  • Lutz Hendricks

    (UNC Chapel Hill)

  • Christopher Herrington

    (Virginia Commonwealth University)

  • Todd Schoellman

    (Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis)

Abstract

We harmonize the results of three dozen historical studies stretching back to the early 20th century to construct a time series of college attendance patterns. We find an important reversal around the time of World War II: before that, family characteristics such as income were the better predictor of college attendance; after, academic ability was the better predictor. We construct a model of college choice that can explain this reversal as a consequence of the post-War surge in the demand for college, explained by the rise in the college wage premium and declining real tuition. Although these factors affected college demand for all types of students equally, they set off a chain reaction in the model: colleges hit capacity constraints; colleges institute selective admissions; colleges become more dispersed in quality; and students apply to a broader set of colleges. High-ability students become more likely to attend college because their options become more attractive, but the opposite is true of high-income students. The driving forces and mechanisms are consistent with changes in higher education after the war, documented here and elsewhere.

Suggested Citation

  • Lutz Hendricks & Christopher Herrington & Todd Schoellman, 2018. "The Changing Roles of Family Income and Academic Ability for US College Attendance," 2018 Meeting Papers 998, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  • Handle: RePEc:red:sed018:998
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. David Comerford & Jose V Rodriguez Mora & Michael J Watts, 2017. "The rise of meritocracy and the inheritance of advantage," Working Papers 1716, University of Strathclyde Business School, Department of Economics.
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    7. Kevin Donovan & Christopher Herrington, 2019. "Factors Affecting College Attainment and Student Ability in the U.S. since 1900," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 31, pages 224-244, January.
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    Cited by:

    1. Manuel Macera & Hitoshi Tsujiyama, 2018. "Frictional Labor Markets, Education Choices and Wage Inequality," 2018 Meeting Papers 827, Society for Economic Dynamics.

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