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

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  • Lutz Hendricks

    () (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)

  • Christopher Herrington

    () (Virginia Commonwealth University)

  • Todd Schoellman

    () (Arizona State University.)

Abstract

We harmonize the results of a number of historical studies to document changes in the patterns of who attends college over the course of the 20th century. We find that family income or socioeconomic status were more important predictors of who attended college before World War II, whereas academic ability was afterward. We construct a model that explains this change through a decline in search costs, motivated by the movement to standardize college admissions and disseminate college information in the 1950s. Our model generates the reversal in sorting seen in the data as well as several other patterns documented in the literature using primarily this single driving force.

Suggested Citation

  • Lutz Hendricks & Christopher Herrington & Todd Schoellman, 2016. "The Changing Roles of Family Income and Academic Ability for US College Attendance," Working Papers 1602, VCU School of Business, Department of Economics, revised Apr 2017.
  • Handle: RePEc:vcu:wpaper:1602
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Diego Restuccia & Guillaume Vandenbroucke, 2014. "Explaining Educational Attainment across Countries and over Time," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 17(4), pages 824-841, October.
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    5. Hendricks, Lutz & Schoellman, Todd, 2014. "Student abilities during the expansion of US education," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 63(C), pages 19-36.
    6. Philippe Belley & Lance Lochner, 2007. "The Changing Role of Family Income and Ability in Determining Educational Achievement," Journal of Human Capital, University of Chicago Press, vol. 1(1), pages 37-89.
    7. Paul Taubman & Terence Wales, 1972. "Mental Ability and Higher Educational Attainment in the 20th Century," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number taub72-1, January.
    8. John Bound & Sarah Turner, 2002. "Going to War and Going to College: Did World War II and the G.I. Bill Increase Educational Attainment for Returning Veterans?," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 20(4), pages 784-815, October.
    9. Fernando Galindo-Rueda & Anna Vignoles, 2005. "The Declining Relative Importance of Ability in Predicting Educational Attainment," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 40(2).
    10. Felicia Ionescu, 2009. "The Federal Student Loan Program: Quantitative Implications for College Enrollment and Default Rates," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 12(1), pages 205-231, January.
    11. Marcus Stanley, 2003. "College Education and the Midcentury GI Bills," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 118(2), pages 671-708.
    12. Keane, Michael P & Wolpin, Kenneth I, 2001. "The Effect of Parental Transfers and Borrowing Constraints on Educational Attainment," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 42(4), pages 1051-1103, November.
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