Date of Award

2022

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Education

First Advisor

Michael A. Gottfried

Abstract

This dissertation presents findings from three studies focused on (a) identifying inequalities in student access and success across the P-20 landscape and (b) evaluating policies as mechanisms to reduce barriers and effectively improve educational and economic opportunity. First, I present findings from "Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due: Causal Impacts of Reverse Transfer Associate Degrees on Education and Labor Market Outcomes" (joint with Lauren Russell), where we leverage a difference-in-differences design applied to administrative data from Tennessee to estimate effects of reverse transfer degrees on students’ GPA, college credits attempted, credits earned, labor market participation, and earnings, as well as eligible cohorts’ baccalaureate attainment. Our results represent the strongest evidence to date on these widely adopted credentials but suggest they have minimal-at-best impacts on students’ short- and intermediate-term outcomes. Second, in "The Power of 'Free' College: Reducing Racial and Socioeconomic Inequalities in College Expectations," I leverage the High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 to test whether promise programs raise high school students’ expectations to ultimately complete a college degree. With difference-in-differences and lagged dependent variable strategies, I find large increases in students’ college plans following the adoption of promise programs, with the greatest gains among low-income and racially minoritized students. This is the first study to identify this key mechanism by which promise programs may increase subsequent college-preparation and college-going behaviors. Finally, in "Defining, Observing, and Describing 'Non-Submitters:' Evidence from the Common App Universe on Students Who Start but Do Not Complete a College Application," I provide the first documented evidence on students who begin a college application but never complete it. With novel data from the nation’s largest application provider, I find that non-submission behaviors vary widely by student, parent, school, community, and other dimensions and identify important predictors of non-submission status that policymakers and future researchers can leverage to target tailored college application supports. Each of these studies not only fills an existing gap in knowledge but also lays the foundation for future empirical work and provides actionable insights for policymakers and practitioners alike.

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