Job Market Paper
Abstract: Guidance counselors are a common school resource for students navigating complicated and consequential education choices. I provide the first causal estimates of individual counselors' effects on high schoolers, using quasi-random counselor assignment policies in Massachusetts. I find that counselors vary substantially in their effectiveness at increasing students' high school graduation rates and college attendance, selectivity and persistence. Counselors' effects on educational attainment are similar in magnitude to teachers' effects, but they flow through improved information and direct assistance, rather than through improved cognitive or non-cognitive skills. Counselor effectiveness is most important for low-achieving and low-income students, perhaps because these students are most likely to lack other sources of information and assistance. Good counselors tend to improve all measures of educational attainment but some specialize in improving high school behavior while others specialize in increasing selective college attendance. Improving access to effective counseling may be a promising way to increase educational attainment and close socioeconomic gaps in education.
Revise and Resubmit at the Journal of Labor Economics
Abstract: Choosing where to apply to college is a complex problem with long-term consequences, but many students lack the guidance necessary to make optimal choices. I show that a technology which provides low-cost personalized college admissions information to over forty percent of high schoolers significantly alters college choices. Students shift applications and attendance to colleges for which they can observe information on schoolmates' admissions experiences. Responses are largest when such information suggests a high admissions probability. Disadvantaged students respond the most, and information on in-state colleges increases their four-year college attendance. Data features and framing, however, deter students from selective colleges.
(with Joshua Goodman, Michael Hurwitz, and Jonathan Smith)
Abstract: We study within-family spillovers in college enrollment to show college-going behavior is transmissible between peers. Because siblings’ test scores are weakly correlated, we exploit college-speciﬁc admissions thresholds that directly affect older but not younger siblings’ college options. Older siblings’ admissibility substantially increases their own four-year college enrollment rate and quality of college attended. Their improved college choices in turn raise younger siblings’ college enrollment rate and quality of college chosen, particularly for families with low predicted probabilities of college enrollment. Some younger siblings follow their older sibling to the same campus but many upgrade by choosing other colleges. The observed spillovers are not well-explained by price, income, proximity or legacy effects, but are most consistent with older siblings transmitting otherwise unavailable information about the college experience and its potential returns. The importance of such personally salient information may partly explain persistent differences in college-going rates by income, geography and other characteristics that deﬁne a community.