Research

Journal Article
Mabel, Z., Hurwitz, M. D., Pender, M., & White, B. (Forthcoming). The Effects of Delivering Personalized Course Recommendations at Scale on Advanced Placement Participation and Performance. Education Finance & Policy. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Gaps in advanced high school coursework by socioeconomic status and geography persist in the United States, even among students with the ability and access to succeed in them. Lack of information on course availability and inaccurate self-perceptions may contribute to these inequities. We report on a large-scale experiment designed to increase Advanced Placement (AP) participation among underrepresented minority students and students attending rural high schools. Students and parents assigned to treatment received personalized outreach via multiple communication channels about APs offered at their high school in which they demonstrated potential to succeed. Outreach increased the probability of AP Exam participation in subjects in which students demonstrated potential to succeed by 1.1 percentage points, a 2.5 percent increase over the control group rate. This, in turn, increased the probability that students scored 3 or higher on those AP Exams by 0.5 percentage points, a 1.4 percent increase over the control group rate. Intervention effects were concentrated among underrepresented minority students attending non-rural high schools and relatively less academically prepared students. The findings indicate that personalized course recommendations can increase equity in advanced high school course participation; however, designing outreach campaigns at scale that engage students is a crucial challenge to their efficacy.

Chan, M., Mabel, Z., & Mbekeani, P. P. (Forthcoming). Incentivizing Equity? The Effects of Performance-Based Funding on Race-Based Gaps in College Completion. Journal of Higher Education. Media Coverage: The ConversationAbstract

Performance-based funding models for higher education, which tie state support for institutions to performance on student outcomes, have proliferated in recent decades. Some states now tie most of their higher education appropriations to completion outcomes and include bonus payments for historically underrepresented groups to address equity gaps in postsecondary attainment. Using a Synthetic Control Method research design, we examine the heterogenous impact of these funding regimes in Tennessee and Ohio on completion outcomes for racially minoritized students and students from historically overrepresented racial groups. Across both states, we generally estimate null or negative effects on credentials conferred to racially minoritized students and null or positive effects on credentials conferred to students from historically overrepresented racial groups. As a result, we find that performance-based funding policies widened the racial gap in certificate completion in Tennessee and in baccalaureate degree completion in Ohio. Across both states, the estimated impacts on associate degree outcomes are also directionally consistent with performance-based funding exacerbating racial inequities in associate degree attainment.

pre_publication_version.pdf
Castleman, B. L., Bettinger, E. P., Choe, A., & Mabel, Z. (Forthcoming). Finishing the Last Lap: Experimental Evidence on Strategies to Increase Attainment for Students Near College Completion. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Nearly half of students who enter college do not graduate. The majority of efforts to increase college completion have focused on supporting students before or soon after they enter college, yet many students drop out after making significant progress towards their degree. In this paper, we report results from a multi-year, large-scale experimental intervention conducted across five states and 20 broad-access, public colleges and universities to support students who are late in their college career but still at risk of not graduating. The intervention provided these “near-completer” students with personalized text messages that encouraged them to connect with campus-based academic and financial resources, reminded them of upcoming and important deadlines, and invited them to engage (via text) with campus-based advisors. We find little evidence that the message campaign affected academic performance or attainment in either the full sample or within individual higher education systems or student subgroups. The findings suggest low-cost nudge interventions may be insufficient for addressing barriers to completion among students who have made considerable academic progress.
Prepub Version.pdf
Media Coverage: The Seattle Times
Mabel, Z., Hurwitz, M. D., Howell, J., & Perfetto, G. (2022). Can Standardizing Applicant High School and Neighborhood Information Help to Diversify Selective Colleges? Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis , 44 (3), 505-531. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Many selective colleges consider the backgrounds of applicants to improve equity in admissions. However, this information is usually not available for all applicants. We examine whether the chances of admission and enrollment changed after 43 colleges gained access to a new tool that standardizes information on educational disadvantage for all applicants. Applicants from the most challenging school and neighborhood backgrounds experienced a 5-percentage point increase in the probability of admission in the year of adoption relative to similar applicants in the previous year. The tool did not alter the probability of enrollment as a function of applicant challenge level in the full sample, but positive changes are concentrated among applicants to institutions that used the tool to allocate financial aid.

pre_publication_version.pdf
Bird, K. A., Castleman, B. L., Mabel, Z., & Song, Y. (2021). Bringing Transparency to Predictive Analytics: A Systematic Comparison of Predictive Modeling Methods in Higher Education. AERA Open , 7. EdNext ArticleAbstract

Colleges have increasingly turned to predictive analytics to target at-risk students for additional  support. Most of the predictive analytic applications in higher education are proprietary, with  private companies offering little transparency about their underlying models. We address this  lack of transparency by systematically comparing two important dimensions: (1) different  approaches to sample and variable construction and how these affect model accuracy; and (2) how the selection of predictive modeling approaches, ranging from methods many institutional researchers would be familiar with to more complex machine learning methods, impacts model performance and the stability of predicted scores. The relative ranking of students’ predicted probability of completing college varies substantially across modeling approaches. While we observe substantial gains in performance from models trained on a sample structured to represent the typical enrollment spells of students and with a robust set of predictors, we observe similar performance between the simplest and most complex models.

Gurantz, O., Pender, M., Mabel, Z., Larson, C., & Bettinger, E. (2020). Virtual Advising for High-achieving High School Students. Economics of Education Review , 75 (April). Publisher's VersionAbstract
We examine whether virtual advising – college counseling using technology to communicate remotely – increases postsecondary enrollment in selective colleges. We test this approach using a sample of approximately 16,000 high-achieving, low- and middle-income students identified by the College Board and randomly assigned to receive virtual advising from the College Advising Corps. The offer of virtual advising had no impact on overall college enrollment, but increased enrollment in high graduation rate colleges by 2.7 percentage points (5%), with instrumental variable impacts on treated students of 6.1 percentage points.
Mabel, Z., Libassi, C. J., & Hurwitz, M. (2020). The Value of Using Early-Career Earnings Data in the College Scorecard to Guide College Choices. Economics of Education Review , 75 (April).Abstract
Policymakers are increasingly including early-career earnings data in consumer-facing college search tools to help students and families make more informed postsecondary education decisions. We offer new evidence on the degree to which existing college-specific earnings data equip consumers with useful information by documenting the level of selection bias in the earnings metrics reported in the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard. Given growing interest in reporting earnings by college and major, we focus on the degree to which earnings differences across four-year colleges and universities can be explained by differences in major composition across institutions. We estimate that more than 70 percent of the variation in median earnings across institutions is explained by observable factors, and accounting for differences in major composition explains 20-30 percent of the variation in earnings over and above institutional selectivity and student composition. We also identify large variations in the distribution of earnings within colleges; as a result, comparisons of early-career earnings can be extremely sensitive to whether the median, 25th, or 75th percentiles are presented. Taken together, our findings indicate that consumers can easily draw misleading conclusions about institutional quality when using publicly available earnings data to compare institutions.
Pre-Publication Version (Dec 2019).pdf
Mabel, Z. (2020). Aiding or Dissuading? The Effects of Reducing Lifetime Eligibility Limits for Need- based Aid on Bachelor’s Degree Attainment and Time to Completion. Research in Higher Education , 61 (8), 966-1001.Abstract

Little is known about the effects of need-based financial aid disbursed late into college and how students respond when they approach lifetime limits for receiving aid. I exploit changes to federal Pell Grant eligibility rules that reduced the lifetime availability for grant aid from 9 to 6 full-time-equivalent years to examine these questions. Using data from the University System of Georgia and a matched difference-in-differences research design, I compare student outcomes before versus after the rule change for Pell recipients affected and unaffected by the new policy. Risk of aid exhaustion due to the policy change led students to increase their academic effort, as measured by term-over-term re-enrollment and term credits attempted and earned.  I find weak evidence that the policy change accelerated time to completion and no evidence that it increased or decreased degree attainment overall. These findings indicate that aid disbursement policies and lifetime aid limits can impact the cost-effectiveness of aid expenditures and the efficiency of college degree production.

Aiding or Dissuading - Prepub Version - March 2020.pdf
Castleman, B. L., Long, B. T., & Mabel, Z. (2018). Can Financial Aid Help to Address the Growing Need for STEM Education? The Effects of Need-Based Grants on the Completion of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Courses and Degrees. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management , 37 (1), 136-166. Publisher's Version FSAG STEM - Sep 2017.pdf
Mabel, Z., & Britton, T. A. (2018). Leaving Late: Understanding the Extent and Predictors of College Late Departure. Social Science Research , 69 (1), 34-51. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Research on college dropout has largely addressed early exit from school, even though a large share of students who do not earn degrees leave after their second year. In this paper, we offer new evidence on the scope of college late departure. Using administrative data from Florida and Ohio, we conduct an event history analysis of the dropout process as a function of credit attainment. Our results indicate that late departure is widespread, particularly at two- and open-admission four-year institutions. We estimate that 14 percent of all entrants to college and one-third of all dropouts completed at least three-quarters of the credits that are typically required to graduate before leaving without a degree. Our results also indicate that the probability of departure spikes as students near the finish line. Amidst considerable policy attention towards improving student outcomes in college, our findings point to promising new avenues for intervention to increase postsecondary attainment.
Leaving late - Aug 2017.pdf
Kahne, H., & Mabel, Z. (2010). Single Mothers and Other Low Earners: Policy Routes to Adequate Wages. Poverty & Public Policy , 2 (3), 113-49. single_mothers.pdf
Report
Libassi, C. J., & Mabel, Z. (2022). A Closer Look at College Affordability: The Link between Living Allowances and Student Debt. The Learning Curve . Urban Institute. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Nontuition expenses are a major component of the total cost of attendance at many colleges, but policymakers concerned with college affordability often focus only on curbing tuition prices. Understanding whether institutions use discretion when setting nontuition costs—and if so, whether this has consequences for how students pay for college—could inform new strategies for curbing nontuition expenses and making college more affordable.

We investigated these questions by focusing on college living allowances, the largest component of nontuition expenses at most institutions. We find that much of the variation in living allowances across institutions is not explained by factors expected to drive price differences (i.e., local living costs and student living arrangements). This provides evidence that institutional discretion plays an important role in how colleges set living allowances.

We also find that average living allowances tend to be systematically lower at less selective institutions. This has potential equity implications regarding the costs students face and how much financial aid they can receive to attend college. Lastly, we show that students borrow more, on average, at colleges that set arbitrarily high living allowances. Although student borrowing can have both positive and negative impacts on college and later life outcomes, these findings suggest that regulating how colleges set living allowances would help students and families. 

Working Paper
Mabel, Z., & Pender, M. (Working Paper). Choosing a College: Evaluating the Relative Influence of Academic Fit versus Affordability on Financial Well-Being in Adulthood.Abstract

Many college-bound students face a tradeoff between attending a more academically selective or affordable institution. We link the universe of SAT-takers with their college enrollment records and financial information thirteen years after high school to examine which of these two factors more strongly predicts early-career financial well-being. Increasing quality of academic fit is associated with stronger financial well-being in adulthood, while college affordability is negatively correlated with annual income and less positively correlated with other outcomes, even after controlling for academic fit and institutional selectivity. These findings suggest that academic fit warrants more consideration than affordability for students who attend college to improve their financial circumstances, while policies that emphasize affordability over academic fit may harm students financially in the long run.

Academic Fit vs. Affordability - July 2020