The extensive research literatures on educational peer effects and on factors affecting college choice have remained largely separate. We connect them by estimating the impact of older siblings’ college choices on the college choices of their younger siblings. Data from the College Board allow us to identify the college choices of all SAT-takers from 2004-14 and those of any younger siblings in the data. We use the data to uncover dozens of colleges that hide from applicants the use of SAT thresholds in the admissions process. A regression discontinuity design shows such thresholds generate exogenous variation in older siblings’ college access and enrollment. We then show that older siblings’ increased college access raises younger siblings’ college enrollment rates, particularly for families with low ex ante probabilities of four-year college enrollment. Such within-family spillover effects suggest that college-going behavior is transmissible between peers.
Many students lack personalized information about college and the admissions process. Forty percent of high school students use Naviance, a software that provides students information about colleges and their acceptance criteria based on data from a student's own high school. I show that students' application choices respond to this information using a regression discontinuity design. Students whose GPA is just below that of the average acceptee's are ten percent less likely to apply to the college than students just above it. This translates into an effect on where students attend college. Students update their application choieces based on the experiences of their peers and the information Naviance provides. Thus, personalized information can impact college choices but the framing of it is important.
Every year many students enter college without the math preparation needed to succeed in their desired programs of study. Many of these students struggle to catch up, especially those who are required to take remedial math courses before entering college-level math. Increasing the number of students who begin at the appropriate level of math has become an important focus for educators and policymakers. We conducted randomized experiments of low-cost online summer math programs at three universities to test whether this type of intervention can increase access to math preparation, improve placement and enrollment in fall math classes, and improve performance in first-year math courses. Students who received the intervention engaged with the platform, though at relatively low rates, and were more likely to retake the placement test and improve their scores than students in the control group. However, these improved scores did not translate into enrolling in higher-level math courses, obtaining more math credits, or improved grades in math-related courses during the first year of college. Thus, providing students access to this online tool did not improve their math skills.
Massively open online courses (MOOCs) have received a great deal of attention, but little research exists on how they might fit into the existing system of higher education. We studied the impacts on learning outcomes of hybrid courses redesigned using online materials from MOOCs created on the Coursera platform and digital materials created by the Open Learning Initiative (OLI), relative to existing versions of the same courses. We found that student performance was about the same in both sections, as measured by pass rates and scores on common assessments. This finding held across a variety of disciplines and subgroups of students. We found no evidence supporting the worry that disadvantaged or academically underprepared students were harmed by taking hybrid courses with reduced class time. Despite the similar student outcomes produced by the two course formats, students in the hybrid sections reported considerably lower satisfaction with their experience.