Research Articles and Chapters

For a full list of my research papers, please see my CV.

Castleman, Benjamin L., and Bridget Terry Long. 2016. “Looking beyond Enrollment: The Causal Effect of Need-Based Grants on College Access, Persistence, and Graduation.” Journal of Labor Economics 34: 1023-1073.Abstract
The government has attempted to ameliorate gaps in college access and success by providing need-based grants, but little evidence exists on the long-term impacts of such aid. We examine the effects of the Florida Student Access Grant (FSAG) using a regression-discontinuity strategy and exploiting the cut-off used to determine eligibility. We find that grant eligibility had a positive effect on attendance, particularly at public 4-year institutions. Moreover, FSAG increased the rate of credit accumulation and bachelor’s degree completion within 6 years, with a 22% increase for students near the eligibility cut-off. The effects are robust to sensitivity analysis.
Boatman, Angela, and Bridget Terry Long. 2016. “Does Financial Aid Impact College Student Engagement?: Evidence from the Gates Millennium Scholars Program.” Research in Higher Education 57: 653-681.Abstract
While increasing numbers of students have gained access to higher education during the last several decades, postsecondary persistence and academic success remain serious concerns with only about half of college entrants completing degrees. Given concerns about affordability and resources, policymakers and administrators wonder how financial aid impacts student outcomes, particularly among low-income students. We investigate this question looking at a range of outcomes beyond just academic performance by focusing on the Gates Millennium Scholars (GMS) Program, a generous grant program that provided a renewable scholarship to talented undergraduate students of color with financial need. We isolate the impact of financial aid on academic and community engagement by comparing the outcomes of GMS recipients to similar non-recipients who were likely to have comparably-high levels of motivation and potential for success. With information about the application process, we use similar applicants not selected for the award as a comparison group. We then employ a Regression Discontinuity research design to provide causal estimates of the effects of GMS. The results suggest that GMS recipients were more likely to engage with peers on school work outside of class. Additionally, GMS recipients were much more likely to participate in community service activities and marginally more likely to participate in other extracurricular activities than their non-GMS peers.
Bettinger, Eric P., Angela Boatman, and Bridget Terry Long. 2013. “Student Supports: Developmental Education and Other Academic Programs.” Future of Children, 23: 93-115, 23, 93-115.Abstract
Low rates of college completion are a major problem in the United States. Less than 60 percent of students at four-year colleges graduate within six years, and at some colleges, the graduation rate is less than 10 percent. Additionally, many students enter higher education ill-prepared to comprehend college-level course material. Some estimates suggest that only one-third of high school graduates finish ready for college workthe proportion is even lower among older students. Colleges have responded to the poor preparation of incoming students by placing approximately 35 to 40 percent of entering freshmen into remedial or developmental courses, along with providing academic supports such as summer bridge programs, learning communities, academic counseling, and tutoring, as well as student supports such as financial aid and child care. Eric Bettinger, Angela Boatman, and Bridget Terry Long describe the role, costs, and impact of these college remediation and academic support programs. According to a growing body of research, the effects of remedial courses are considerably nuanced. The courses appear to help or hinder students differently by state, institution, background, and academic preparedness. The mixed findings from earlier research have raised questions ranging from whether remedial programs, on average, improve student academic outcomes to which types of programs are most effective. Administrators, practitioners, and policy makers are responding by redesigning developmental courses and searching for ways to implement effective remediation programs more broadly. In addition, recent research suggests that colleges may be placing too many students into remedial courses unnecessarily, suggesting the need for further examining the placement processes used to assign students to remedial courses. The authors expand the scope of remediation research by discussing other promising areas of academic support commonly offered by colleges, including advising, tutoring, and mentoring programs, as well as supports that target the competing responsibilities of students, namely caring for dependents and balancing employment with schoolwork. They conclude that the limited resources of institutions and equally limited funds of students make it imperative for postsecondary institutions to improve student academic supports and other services. (Contains 93 endnotes.)
Bettinger, Eric P., and Bridget Terry Long. 2010. “Does Cheaper Mean Better? The Impact of Using Adjunct Instructors on Student Outcomes.” Review of Economics and Statistics 92: 598-613.Abstract
Higher education has increasingly relied on part-time, adjunct instructors. Critics argue that adjuncts reduce educational quality because they often have less education than full-time professors. On the other hand, by specializing in teaching or being concurrently employed, adjuncts could enhance learning experiences. This paper quantifies how adjuncts affect subsequent student interest and course performance relative to full-time faculty using an instrumental variable strategy that exploits variation in the composition of a department's faculty over time. The results suggest that adjuncts often have a small, positive effect on enrollment patterns, especially in fields related to particular occupations.
Bettinger, Eric P., and Bridget Terry Long. 2009. “Addressing the Needs of Underprepared Students in Higher Education: Does College Remediation Work?.” Journal of Human Resources 44: 736-771.Abstract
Each year, thousands graduate high school academically underprepared for college. Many must take remedial or developmental postsecondary coursework, and there is a growing debate about the effectiveness of such programs. This paper examines the effects of remediation using a unique data set of over 28,000 students. To account for selection biases, the paper implements an instrumental variables strategy based on variation in placement policies and the importance of proximity in college choice. The results suggest that students in remediation are more likely to persist in college in comparison to students with similar backgrounds who were not required to take the courses.
Long, Bridget Terry, and Michal Kurlaender. 2009. “Do Community Colleges Provide a Viable Pathway to a Baccalaureate Degree?.” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 31: 30-53.Abstract
Community colleges have become an important entryway for students intending to complete baccalaureate degrees. However, many question the viability of the transfer function and wonder whether students suffer a penalty for starting at 2-year institutions. The authors examined how the outcomes of community college entrants compared with those of similar students who initially entered 4-year institutions within the Ohio public higher education system. Using a detailed data set, the authors tracked outcomes for 9 years and used multiple strategies to deal with selection issues: propensity score matching and instrumental variables. The results suggest that straightforward estimates are significantly biased, but even after accounting for selection, students who initially began at community colleges were 14.5% less likely to complete bachelor's degrees within 9 years. (Contains 22 notes, 9 tables, and 1 figure.)
Bound, John, Brad Hershbein, and Bridget Terry Long. 2009. “Playing the Admissions Game: Student Reactions to Increasing College Competition.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 23: 119-146.Abstract
Gaining entrance to a four-year college or university, particularly a selective institution, has become increasingly competitive over the last several decades. We document this phenomenon and show how it has varied across different parts of the student ability distribution and across regions, with the most pronounced increases in competition being found among higher-ability students and in the Northeast. Additionally, we explore how the college preparatory behavior of high school seniors has changed in response to the growth in competition. We also discuss the theoretical implications of increased competition on longer-term measures of learning and achievement and attempt to test them empiricallythe evidence and related literature, while limited, suggests little long-term benefit.
Long, Bridget Terry. 2007. “The Contributions of Economics to the Study of College Access and Success.” Teachers College Record 109: 2367-2443.Abstract
Background/Context: The essay provides a comprehensive review of work by economists and others in related quantitative disciplines on the transition of students to college. A particular emphasis is given to the role of price and financial aid although issues related to college preparation, access, and persistence are also investigated. The final section discusses ongoing debates within economics about college access and success and suggests directions for future research. Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: While other papers review parts of this literature, given the breadth and depth of the work on the transition to college, none gives a full picture of the contribution of economics to this area of understanding. Research Design: A main goal of the economics literature has been to establish a causal relationship rather than one based on the correlation of trends or patterns. In pursuit of causality, economists rely on complex estimation techniques usually involving large samples of quantitative data and often utilize "natural experiments" to establish the impact of a factor or policy. Unfortunately, the data requirements for such work, along with the concerns about biases, often limits the kinds of questions that can be confidently answered. The primary framework in economics of education is the human capital model. When deciding whether to continue their education, individuals compare the benefits of human capital to the costs of obtaining it. Numerous articles highlight important factors in these decisions, including both monetary and non-monetary considerations as well as uncertainty and risk aversion. Conclusions/Recommendations: While great progress has been made by economists to understand issues related to college access and success, the article makes suggestions about possible future research. More work is needed to understand the role of primary and secondary schools in college attendance, why there are differences in academic course-taking and performance, and the role of expectations and information in college access. Although economists have greatly contributed to the understanding of the role of costs and benefits in college demand, additional work is needed to clarify the role of parents, teachers, peers, and neighborhoods in college decisions. Additional research is also needed to resolve the current debate about the relative role of resources in comparison to long-term family circumstances and academic preparation. Finally, more information is also need about what factors affect college success.
Long, Bridget Terry, and Erin Riley. 2007. “Financial Aid: A Broken Bridge to College Access?.” Harvard Educational Review 77: 39-63.Abstract
In this article, Bridget Terry Long and Erin Riley argue that in recent years, U.S. financial aid policy has shifted its emphasis from expanding college access for low-income students toward defraying the costs for middle- and upper-income families. They explain how loans, merit-based aid, and education tax breaks are increasingly replacing need-based aid and discuss how the declining role of grants may disproportionately disadvantage students already underrepresented in higher education. They document the rise in students' unmet financial needs over the past decade, showing that low-income students and students of color are especially likely to face substantial unmet need even after taking into account all available grants and loans, as well as family contributions. In response to these trends, the authors call for a greater emphasis on need-based aid, especially grants, to reduce the role of cost as a barrier to college access. (Contains 3 tables and 18 endnotes.)