- Jeffrey T. Denning
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Jeffrey T. Denning
College completion rates declined from the 1970s to the 1990s. We document that this trend has reversed--since the 1990s, college completion rates have increased. We investigate the reasons for the increase in college graduation rates. Collectively, student characteristics, institutional resources, and institution attended do not explain much of the change. However, we show that grade inflation can explain much of the change in graduation rates. We show that GPA is a strong predictor of graduation rates and that GPAs have been rising since the 1990s. We also find that increases in college GPAs cannot be explained by student demographics, ability, and school factors. Further, we find that at a public liberal arts college, grades have increased over time conditional on final exam performance.
After increasing in the 1970s and 1980s, time to bachelor’s degree has declined since the 1990s. We document this fact using data from three nationally representative surveys. We show that this pattern is occurring across school types and for all student types. Using administrative student records from 11 large universities, we confirm the finding and show that it is robust to alternative sample definitions. We discuss what might explain the decline in time to bachelor’s degree by considering trends in student preparation, state funding, student enrollment, study time, and student employment during college.
Selective college admissions are fundamentally a question of tradeoffs: Given capacity, admitting one student means rejecting another. Research to date has generally estimated average effects of college selectivity, and has been unable to distinguish between the effects on students gaining access and on those losing access under alternative admissions policies. We use the introduction of the Top Ten Percent rule and administrative data from the State of Texas to estimate the effect of access to a selective college on student graduation and earnings outcomes. We estimate separate effects on two groups of students. The first--highly ranked students at schools which previously sent few students to the flagship university--gain access due to the policy; the second--students outside the top tier at traditional "feeder" high schools--tend to lose access. We find that students in the first group see increases in college enrollment and graduation with some evidence of positive earnings gains 7-9 years after college. In contrast, students in the second group attend less selective colleges but do not see declines in overall college enrollment, graduation, or earnings. The Top Ten Percent rule, introduced for equity reasons, thus also seems to have improved efficiency.
Do nudge interventions that have generated positive impacts at a local level maintain efficacy when scaled state or nationwide? What specific mechanisms explain the positive impacts of promising smaller-scale nudges? We investigate, through two randomized controlled trials, the impact of a national and state-level campaign to encourage students to apply for financial aid for college. The campaigns collectively reached over 800,000 students, with multiple treatment arms to investigate different potential mechanisms. We find no impacts on financial aid receipt or college enrollment overall or for any student subgroups. We find no evidence that different approaches to message framing, delivery, or timing, or access to one-on-one advising affected campaign efficacy. We discuss why nudge strategies that work locally may be hard to scale effectively.
This paper considers an unavoidable feature of the school environment – what are the long run effects of a student’s ordinal rank in elementary school? Using administrative data from all public school students in Texas, we show that students with a higher third grade academic rank, conditional on ability and classroom fixed effects, have higher subsequent test scores, are more likely to take AP classes, to graduate high school, and to enroll in college, and ultimately have higher earnings 19 years later. The paper concludes by exploring the tradeoff between higher quality schools and higher rank in the presence of these rank-based peer effects.
Despite large and growing student loan balances, there is relatively little evidence on the effects of access to student loans on borrowing and educational outcomes. We examine the effect of access to credit by using policy variation in the maximum federal student loan amounts available to U.S. college students. In particular, first-, second-, and third-year students have access to different amounts of federal student loans. Using a regression discontinuity and administrative data from a state higher education system, we find that access to higher loan limits increases borrowing for at least 26 percent of borrowers. Despite this increase in borrowing, we find no evidence that eligibility for additional loans affects student GPA, persistence, or graduation.