Panel: College Selectivity and Its Consequences

Thursday, November 8, 2012: 3:00 PM-4:30 PM
Carroll (Sheraton Baltimore City Center Hotel)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Organizers:  Jonathan Smith, The College Board
Moderators:  Matthew Chingos, Brookings Institution
Chairs:  Michal Kurlaender, University of California, Davis

So much of the messaging to high school students regarding their life after high school is around going to college and getting a degree in order to thrive in the 21st century economy. In reality, selecting a postsecondary institution is a much more complicated choice that, when made optimally, likely involves carefully weighing the tradeoffs associated with price, distance, academic challenge, and many other preference-based factors that vary from student to student. The papers in this session put forth information that will better inform students’ choices by providing data and evidence on the costs and benefits associated with attending a more selective institution. How much more does it cost a student to choose a more selective college? How does a more selective college alter a student’s probability of transferring, dropping out, stopping out, and completing a bachelor’s degree? In particular, how important is it to enroll in a college that is a good match, academically speaking, and precisely what are student’s giving up by making sub-optimal choices? The first paper examines the tradeoffs a student faces between tuition and graduation rates of colleges in their choice set. Using data from the Delta Cost Project and the College Board, this paper details the differential costs and graduation rates at different college selectivities and for different students enrolled in those colleges. The second paper uses the National Longitudinal Study of Youth - 1997 to determine the consequences of mismatch, both undermatch and overmatch. The authors examine the effects of mismatch on graduation, transfers, time-to-degree, and major choice. The third paper in the session uses a new collection of approximately 17,000 sets of twins available in College Board data to examine the related question, does enrolling in a more selective college causally increase graduation rates? Combined, these papers illustrate that college choice involves many tradeoffs but that those tradeoffs can be made more clear and explicit for the students who face them. Using distinct methodologies and data sets, the papers also tackle the age old issue of quantifying the benefits to attending a more selective college. These are important issues because a growing literature describes the undermatch problem, particularly among low-income students, as being pervasive across student academic ability levels and college selectivity categories. Fully understanding the impact on degree completion and the choices leading up to it of college selectivity and whether a student is academically overmatched or undermatched will help inform future education policy and student decisions.

The Impact of College Mismatch
Jeffrey Smith and Eleanor Dillon, University of Michigan

Estimating the Return to College Selectivity Over the Career Using Administrative Earnings Data
Stacy Dale, Mathematica Policy Research and Alan Krueger, Princeton University

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