Panel Paper: Using Admissions Thresholds to Assess the Benefits of Two-Year and Four-Year College Quality

Friday, November 8, 2013 : 8:40 AM
Plaza I (Ritz Carlton)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Michael Drew Hurwitz1, Jonathan Smith1 and Joshua Goodman2, (1)The College Board, (2)Harvard University
Using data from 10 four-year colleges with clear SAT cut scores used in the college admissions process, we employ a regression discontinuity design to estimate the degree attainment effects of attending a two-year versus a four-year college and attending a higher quality college in general. To accomplish this, we use College Board data on college application and matriculation behavior to demonstrate that these seemingly arbitrary SAT admission thresholds influence the college levels (i.e. two-year versus four-year) and quality (i.e. more selective versus less-selective) to which applicants ultimately matriculate.

 Applicants who fall short of these four-year colleges’ admission SAT thresholds are more likely to enroll in two-year colleges, and conditional on attending a four-year college, they are also more likely to attend less selective colleges.  We find that students induced into the two-year college pipeline through these SAT thresholds are more likely to obtain an associate’s degree but no less likely to obtain a  bachelor’s degree- a finding which runs counter to the existing body of research showing that students are penalized by first attending a two-year college.  Students below the admissions thresholds who are compelled to go to slightly less selective four-year colleges are not statistically less likely to receive a bachelor’s degree   Collectively, the results of our study reveal that, under certain conditions, attending a two-year college over a four-year college may be beneficial to a student.