"Housing Voucher Take-Up and Labor Market Impacts." Accepted, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management (with Eric Chyn and Max Kapustin)
Low participation rates in government assistance programs are a major policy concern in the United States. This paper studies take-up of Section 8 housing vouchers, a program in which take-up rates are quite low among interested and eligible households. We link 18,109 households in Chicago that were offered vouchers through a lottery to administrative data and study how baseline employment, earnings, public assistance, arrests, residential location, and children's academic performance predict take-up. Our analysis finds mixed evidence of whether the most disadvantaged or distressed households face the largest barriers to program participation. We also study the causal impact of peer behavior on take-up by exploiting idiosyncratic variation in the timing of voucher offers. We find that the probability of lease-up increases with the number of neighbors who recently received voucher offers. Finally, we explore the policy implications of increasing housing voucher take-up by applying reweighting methods to existing causal impact estimates of vouchers receipt. This analysis suggests that greater utilization of vouchers may lead to larger reductions in labor market activity. Differences in take-up rates across settings may be important to consider when assessing the external validity of studies identifying the effects of public assistance programs.
"The Relative Returns to Education, Experience, and Attractiveness for Young Workers." Forthcoming, Economic Development and Cultural Change (with Emily Beam and Caroline Theoharides)
Understanding employer preferences for characteristics of young workers is crucial to designing effective policies to reduce youth unemployment in developing countries. We conduct a randomized resume audit study, simultaneously examining the returns to education, experience, and physical attractiveness among young workers applying for entry-level jobs in a developing country context. Employers do not value college experience without a degree. Postsecondary vocational training increases the likelihood of a callback, but only for blue-collar occupations typically offered only to male workers. Work experience is valued across most occupations; however, among service-sector jobs with in-person customer interactions, attractive applicants receive 23 percent more callbacks, swamping the returns to experience. Our results can guide policymakers in the design of labor market programs to reduce youth unemployment as well as help young workers make optimal choices to ease their school-to-work transition.
"Does Money Matter in the Long Run? Effects of School Spending on Educational Attainment." 2017. American Economic Journal: Economic Policy 9(4): 256-80.
This paper measures the effect of increased primary school spending on students' college enrollment and completion. Using student-level panel administrative data, I exploit variation in the school funding formula imposed by Michigan's 1994 school finance reform, Proposal A. Students exposed to $1,000 (ten percent) more spending were three percentage points (seven percent) more likely to enroll in college and 2.3 percentage points (eleven percent) more likely to earn a postsecondary degree. The effects were concentrated among districts that were urban and suburban, lower-poverty, and higher-achieving at baseline. Districts targeted the marginal dollar toward schools serving less-poor populations within the district.
Media Coverage: Michigan Public Radio
"ACT for All: The Effect of Mandatory College Entrance Exams on Postsecondary Attainment and Choice." 2017. Education Finance and Policy, 12(3): 281-311. Lead article.
This paper examines the effects of requiring and paying for all public high school students to take a college entrance exam, a policy adopted by eleven states since 2001. I show that prior to the policy, for every ten poor students who score college-ready on the ACT or SAT, there are an additional five poor students who would score college-ready but who take neither exam. I use a difference-in-differences strategy to estimate the effects of the policy on postsecondary attainment and find small increases in enrollment at four-year institutions. The effects are concentrated among students less likely to take a college entrance exam in the absence of the policy and students in the poorest high schools. The students induced to enroll by the policy persist through college at approximately the same rate as their inframarginal peers. I calculate that the policy is more cost-effective than traditional student aid at boosting postsecondary attainment.
Winner: Thomas Downes Prize for Best Article in EFP during 2017
"The Missing Manual: Using National Student Clearinghouse Data to Track Postsecondary Outcomes." 2015. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 37(1S): 53S-79S. (With Susan Dynarski and Steven Hemelt)
This paper explores the promises and pitfalls of using National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) data to measure a variety of postsecondary outcomes. We first describe the history of the NSC, the basic structure of its data, and recent research interest in using NSC data. Second, using information from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), we calculate enrollment coverage rates for NSC data over time, by state, institution type, and demographic student subgroups. We find that coverage is highest among public institutions and lowest (but growing) among for-profit colleges. Across students, enrollment coverage is lower for minorities but similar for males and females. We also explore two potentially less salient sources of non-coverage: suppressed student records due to privacy laws and matching errors due to typographic inaccuracies in student names. To illustrate how this collection of measurement errors may affect estimates of the levels and gaps in postsecondary attendance and persistence, we perform several case-study analyses using administrative transcript data from Michigan public colleges. We close with a discussion of practical issues for program evaluators using NSC data.
"Experimental Evidence on the Effect of Childhood Investments on Postsecondary Attainment and Degree Completion." 2013. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 32(4): 692-717. Lead article. (With Susan Dynarski and Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach.)
This paper examines the effect of early childhood investments on college enrollment and degree completion. We use the random assignment in the Project STAR experiment to estimate the effect of smaller classes in primary school on college entry, college choice, and degree completion. We improve on existing work in this area with unusually detailed data on college enrollment spells and the previously unexplored outcome of college degree completion. We find that assignment to a small class increases the probability of attending college by 2.7 percentage points, with effects more than twice as large among blacks. Among students enrolled in the poorest third of schools, the effect is 7.3 percentage points. Smaller classes increase the likelihood of earning a college degree by 1.6 percentage points and shift students towards high-earning fields such as STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), business and economics. We find that test score effects at the time of the experiment are an excellent predictor of long-term improvements in postsecondary outcomes.
Winner: Raymond Vernon Prize for Best Article in JPAM during 2013
I conduct a statewide experiment in Michigan with nearly 50,000 high-achieving high school seniors. Treated students are mailed a letter encouraging them to consider college and providing them with the web address of a college information website. I find that very high-achieving, poor and minority students are the most likely to navigate to the website. Small changes to letter content have dramatic effects on take-up. For example, highlighting college affordability induces 18 percent more students to the website than highlighting college choice, and 37 percent more than highlighting how to apply to college. Poor students who are mailed the letter experience a 1.4 percentage point increase in the probability that they enroll in college, driven by increases at four-year institutions. Unfortunately, these students tend not to persist through college, leading to an effect only half as large on the probability of enrolling and persisting to the second year of college, and a near zero impact on enrolling and persisting to the third year. These findings highlight the importance of supporting marginal college enrollees through college, and, for researchers, the necessity of examining persistence when evaluating college-going interventions.
"School Finance Reforms, Teachers' Unions, and the Allocation of School Resources," with Eric Brunner and Andrew Ju
School finance reforms caused some of the most dramatic increases in intergovernmental aid from states to local governments in U.S. history. We examine whether teacher unions affected the fraction of reform-induced state aid that passed through to local spending and the allocation of these funds. Districts with strong teacher unions increased spending nearly dollar-for-dollar with state aid, and spent the funds primarily on teacher compensation. Districts with weak unions used aid primarily for property tax relief, and spent remaining funds on hiring new teachers. The greater expenditure increases in strong union districts led to larger increases in student achievement.
We evaluate sample selection correction performance using a natural experiment. In 2007, Michigan began requiring that all students take a college entrance exam. We apply several parametric and semiparametric correction models to the pre-policy microdata and compare the predicted test scores to the uncensored, post-policy test score distribution. We find that performance is sensitive to predictor choice but not correction model choice: no correction consistently outperforms OLS. Similarly, corrections using group-level data are sensitive to data aggregation level but not control function specification. We conclude that gains from less restrictive econometric methods are small relative to gains from richer data.
"Identifying the Channels Through Which Head Start Affects Long-Term Outcomes."
Studies show that gains in test scores of Head Start participants fade by late elementary school, and yet positive impacts on long-term outcomes such as educational attainment, earnings, health, and criminal activity persist. Given that these long-run effects do not appear to be caused by a lasting gain in cognitive ability, I test whether Head Start affects non-cognitive ability, or skills that are not directly measured by standardized cognitive tests but that might affect long-term outcomes. I use data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) Children and Young Adult supplement to estimate the effect of Head Start using within family differences in Head Start participation. I find that attending Head Start has modest positive impacts on a variety of non-cognitive characteristics. These effects are driven primarily by female participants who gain one seventh of a standard deviation on a summary index of non-cognitive traits measured during childhood. I present suggestive evidence that these traits are positively associated with the long-term outcomes that Head Start has been shown to improve.