Advertisement

Research in Higher Education

, Volume 57, Issue 7, pp 795–822 | Cite as

Berkeley or Bust? Estimating the Causal Effect of College Selectivity on Bachelor’s Degree Completion

  • Shomon Shamsuddin
Article

Abstract

Many students enroll in less selective colleges than they are qualified to attend, despite low graduation rates at these institutions. Some scholars have argued that qualified students should enroll in the most selective colleges because they have greater resources to support student success. However, selective college attendance is endogenous, so student outcomes could be due to individual ability, not institutional characteristics. Previous work on college selectivity has focused on the earnings effects of attending elite private universities, overlooking both college graduation impacts and the public institutions that educate most students. I estimate the effect of selective colleges on the probability of bachelor’s degree completion using a restricted-access national dataset and an instrumental variables approach to address the endogeneity of college choice. I find that a 100-point increase in the average SAT score for admitted students is associated with an increase in the probability of graduation by 13 percentage points. In addition, I find suggestive evidence that enrolling in a selective public college has a positive effect on degree completion. The results are robust to a series of sensitivity tests and alternate specifications. The findings suggest strong benefits to enrolling in the most selective colleges that students are qualified to attend and have important implications for decisions to pursue postsecondary education in the face of high student loan debt.

Keywords

College selectivity Degree completion College choice College enrollment 

Notes

Acknowledgments

I am grateful to Frank Levy, Josh Goodman, Albert Saiz, John Willett, the editor and anonymous reviewers for comments and suggestions. This material is based upon work supported by the Association for Institutional Research, the National Center for Education Statistics, the National Science Foundation, and the National Postsecondary Education Cooperative under Association for Institutional Research Grant Number DG12-70. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Association for Institutional Research, the National Center for Education Statistics, the National Science Foundation, or the National Postsecondary Education Cooperative.

References

  1. Alon, S., & Tienda, M. (2005). Assessing the ‘mismatch’ hypothesis: Differences in college graduation rates by institutional selectivity. Sociology of Education, 78(4), 294–315.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Angrist, J. D. (2001). Estimation of limited dependent variable models with dummy endogenous regressors: Simple strategies for empirical practice. Journal of Business and Economic Statistics, 19(1), 2–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Angrist, J. D., & Pischke, J. S. (2008). Mostly harmless econometrics: An empiricist’s companion. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Avery, C., Hoxby, C., Jackson, C., Burek, K., Pope, G., & Raman, M. (2006). Cost should be no barrier: An evaluation of the first year of Harvard’s financial aid initiative, NBER Working Paper. No. 12029.Google Scholar
  5. Bailey, M. J., & Dynarski, S. M. (2011). Gains and gaps: A historical perspective on inequality in college entry and completion. In R. Murnane & G. Duncan (Eds.), Socioeconomic inequality and educational disadvantage. New York: Russell Sage.Google Scholar
  6. Bastedo, M. N., & Flaster, A. (2014). Conceptual and methodological problems in research on college undermatch. Educational Researcher, 43(2), 93–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bastedo, M. N., & Jaquette, O. (2011). Running in place: Low-Income students and the dynamics of higher education stratification. Education Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 33(3), 318–339.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Baum, CF. (2007). Instrumental variables: Overview and advances. Presentation to UKSUG 13. http://repec.org/usug2007/baumUKSUG2007.pdf. Accessed 10 Sept 2012.
  9. Black, D. A., & Smith, J. A. (2004). How robust is the evidence on the effects of college quality? Evidence from matching. Journal of Econometrics, 121(1–2), 99–124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Black, D. A., & Smith, J. A. (2006). Estimating the returns to college quality with multiple proxies for quality. Journal of Labor Economics, 24(3), 701–728.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bound, J., Lovenheim, M. F., & Turner, S. (2010). Why have college completion rates declined? An analysis of changing student preparation and collegiate resources. American Economic Journal, 2, 129–157.Google Scholar
  12. Bowen, W. G., & Bok, D. (2000). The shape of the river. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Bowen, W. G., Chingos, M. M., & McPherson, M. S. (2009). Crossing the finish line: Completing college at America’s Public Universities. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Brewer, D. J., Eide, E. R., & Ehrenberg, R. G. (1999). Does it pay to attend an elite private college? Cross-cohort evidence on the effects of college type on earnings. The Journal of Human Resources, 34(1), 104–123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Card, D. (1993). Using geographic variation in college proximity to estimate the return to schooling. NBER Working Paper. No. 4483.Google Scholar
  16. Cohodes, S., & Goodman, J. (2012). First degree earns: The Impact of college quality on college completion rates, working paper. Harvard Kennedy School.Google Scholar
  17. College Board. (2011). Trends in college pricing 2011. Trends in higher education series. New York: College Board.Google Scholar
  18. Dale, S. B., & Krueger, A. B. (2002). Estimating the payoff to attending a more selective college: An application of selection on observables and unobservables. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 117(4), 1491–1527.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Dale, S., & Krueger, A. B. (2011). Estimating the return to college selectivity over the career using administrative earnings data, NBER Working Paper. No. 17159.Google Scholar
  20. Daniel, K., Black, D., & Smith, J. (1997). College Quality and the Wages of Young Men. University of Western Ontario, Department of Economics.Google Scholar
  21. Dillon, E, & Smith, J. (2013). The determinants of mismatch between students and colleges, NBER Working Paper No. 19286.Google Scholar
  22. Do, C. (2004). The effects of local colleges on the quality of college attended. Economics of Education Review, 23(3), 249–257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Eide, E., Brewer, D. J., & Ehrenberg, R. G. (1998). Does it pay to attend an elite private college? Evidence on the effects of undergraduate college quality on graduate school attendance. Economics of Education Review, 17(4), 371–376.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Espenshade, T. J., & Radford, A. W. (2009). No longer separate, not yet equal: Race and class in elite college admission and campus life. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Gerber, T. P., & Cheung, S. Y. (2008). Horizontal stratification in postsecondary education: Forms, explanations, and implications. Annual Review of Sociology, 34(1), 299–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hanushek, E. A. (1979). Conceptual and empirical issues in the estimation of educational production functions. Journal of Human Resources, 14(3), 351–388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Haveman, R., & Wilson, K. (2007). Access, matriculation, and graduation. In S. Dickert-Conlin & R. H. Rubenstein (Eds.), Economic inequality and higher education: Access, persistence, and success. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  28. Heil, S., Reisel, L., & Attewell, P. (2014). College selectivity and degree completion. American Educational Research Journal, 51(5), 913–935.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hess, F. M., Schneider, M., Carey, K., & Kelly, A. P. (2009). Diplomas and dropouts: Which colleges actually graduate their students (and which don’t). Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute.Google Scholar
  30. Hill, C. B., Winston, G. C., & Boyd, S. A. (2005). Affordability: Family incomes and net prices at highly selective private colleges and universities. Journal of Human Resources, 40(4), 769–790.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Hoekstra, M. (2009). The effect of attending the flagship state university on earnings: A discontinuity-based approach. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 91(4), 717–724.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Hoxby, C. M. (2004). College choices: The economics of where to go, when to go, and how to pay for it. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Hoxby, C. M. (2009). The changing selectivity of American colleges. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 23(4), 95–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Hoxby, C, & Turner, S. (2012). Expanding college opportunities for high-achieving, low-income students. Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research Discussion Paper No. 12-014.Google Scholar
  35. Hoxby, C. & Avery, C. (2012). The missing “one-offs”: The hidden supply of high-achieving, low income students, NBER Working Paper. No. 18586.Google Scholar
  36. James, E., Alsalam, N., Conaty, J. C., & To, D. L. (1989). College quality and future earnings: Where should you send your child to college? American Economic Review, 79(2), 247–252.Google Scholar
  37. Light, A., & Strayer, W. (2000). Determinants of college completion: School quality or student ability? Journal of Human Resources, 35(2), 299–332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Long, M. C. (2008). College quality and early adult outcomes. Economics of Education Review, 27(5), 588–602.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Loury, L. D., & Garman, D. (1995). College selectivity and earnings. Journal of Labor Economics, 13(2), 289–308.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Marsh, H. W. (1987). The big-fish-little-pond effect on academic self-concept. Journal of Educational Psychology, 79(3), 280–295.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. McPherson, M. S., & Schapiro, M. O. (2002). Changing patterns of institutional aid. In D. E. Heller (Ed.), The condition of access. Phoenix: American Council of Education.Google Scholar
  42. Melguizo, T. (2008). Quality matters: Assessing the impact of attending more selective institutions on college completion rates of minorities. Research in Higher Education, 49, 214–236.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Monks, J. (2000). The returns to individual and college characteristics: Evidence from the national longitudinal survey of youth. Economics of Education Review, 19(3), 279–289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. National Center for Education Statistics. (2012). “The condition of education 2012.” NCES 2012-045. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.Google Scholar
  45. Niu, S. X., & Tienda, M. (2013). High school economic composition and college persistence. Research in Higher Education, 54(1), 30–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. O’Mara, A., & Marsh, H. (2007). Big-fish-little-pond effect: The negative effects of academically selective schools. The Psychology of Education Review, 31, 2–7.Google Scholar
  47. Pallais, A., & Turner, S. E. (2007). Access to elites. In S. Dickert-Conlin & R. Rubenstein (Eds.), Economic inequality and higher education. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  48. Roderick, M., Nagaoka J., Coca V., & Moeller, E. (2008). From high school to the future: Potholes on the road to college. Consortium on Chicago School Research. Research Report.Google Scholar
  49. Rouse, C. E. (1995). Democratization or diversion—the effect of community colleges on educational attainment. Journal of Business and Economic Statistics, 13(2), 217–224.Google Scholar
  50. Schneider, M. (2008). The costs of failure factories in American higher education. Education Outlook. No. 6. Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute.Google Scholar
  51. Smith, J., Pender, M., & Howell, J. (2013). The full extent of student-college academic undermatch. Economics of Education Review, 32, 247–261.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Thomas, S. L. (2003). Longer-term economic effects of college selectivity and control. Research in Higher Education, 44(3), 263–299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Tinto, V. (1987). Leaving college: Rethinking the causes and cures of student attrition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  54. Turley, R. N. L. (2009). College proximity: Mapping access to opportunity. Sociology of Education, 82(2), 126–146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Weisbrod, B. A., & Karpoff, P. (1968). Monetary returns to college education, student ability, and college quality. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 50(4), 491–497.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Winston, G. C. (1999). Subsidies, hierarchy and peers: The awkward economics of higher education. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 13(1), 13–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Zhang, L. (2005). Do measures of college quality matter? The effect of college quality on graduates’ earnings. Review of Higher Education, 28(4), 571–596.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Tufts UniversityMedfordUSA

Personalised recommendations