Instrumental Variables: Conceptual Issues and an Application Considering High School Course Taking

  • Rob M. Bielby
  • Emily House
  • Allyson Flaster
  • Stephen L. DesJardins
Part of the Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research book series (HATR, volume 28)


Policymakers are becoming increasingly adamant that the research they use to evaluate educational interventions, practices, and programs can support statements about cause and effect. An instrumental variables (IV) estimation approach, which has historically been employed by economists, can be utilized to make causal statements regarding a predictor and an outcome when randomized trials are not feasible. In this chapter, we provide an overview of the IV approach as we explore the causal relationship between taking Algebra II in high school and degree attainment in college. We discuss concepts and terminology related to conducting experimental and quasi-experimental work, present the assumptions that should be met by an IV before a researcher can use it to make causal inferences, and demonstrate several IV estimation strategies. Additionally, we provide the reader with annotated Stata code to facilitate the application of this underutilized methodological approach in higher education research.


Ordinary Little Square Degree Attainment College Completion Local Labor Market Condition Local Average Treatment Effect 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The authors would like to thank Brian McCall and Stephen Porter for their helpful suggestions and feedback. All errors and omissions are, however, our own.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rob M. Bielby
    • 1
  • Emily House
    • 1
  • Allyson Flaster
    • 1
  • Stephen L. DesJardins
    • 1
  1. 1.Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education, School of EducationUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

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