Panel Paper: Percent Plans, Automatic Admissions, and College Attainment

Thursday, November 8, 2012 : 11:15 AM
International D (Sheraton Baltimore City Center Hotel)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Isaac McFarlin, University of Michigan, Paco Martorell, RAND Corporation and Lindsay Daugherty, Center for Education Policy Research

Recent evidence on the causal relationship between college costs and educational attainment shows that lowering costs can increase college entry and persistence, and when financial incentives offered by programs are simple and transparent, they can be particularly effective for low-income populations.  In this paper, we evaluate the impact of automatic admission to flagship universities under the Texas Top 10% plan, which guarantees admission to any public college to students in the top decile of their high school class, and which also includes scholarship programs for select students. The Texas 10% plan, arguably a simple and transparent program, was intended to expand access among underrepresented students at the state’s flagships, specifically the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University. These flagship institutions took parallel efforts to increase diversity by establishing scholarships and outreach programs for students attending certain disadvantaged high schools. In addition to offering financial support, the programs provided advisory support when students enrolled.  We propose to use regression-discontinuity methods and administrative data from urban school districts to estimate the impact of eligibility for automatic admissions under the Texas 10% program on college entry, college choice, and persistence outcomes. We will estimate causal effects for both scholarship and non-scholarship high schools, tracking students with National Student Clearinghouse data. Preliminary findings for an urban school district show that while eligibility for automatic admissions does not affect the decision to attend college, it does have a substantial impact on college choice. Specifically, students who barely make the 10% threshold are 60 percent more likely to attend a flagship university. Evidence from a district-wide survey suggests that financial constraints rather than lack of information or difficulty with the application process play an important role in whether the most disadvantaged students attend selective colleges.