Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Rescuing Low-Income High Ability Students: University Access, Mismatch and Validity

Thursday, November 12, 2015 : 4:10 PM
Tuttle North (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Sebastian Gallegos, University of Chicago, Francisco Meneses, Government of Chile and Dante Contreras, Universidad de Chile
Are university admission standards omitting low-income applicants with good academic futures? This paper develops and implements a methodology for evaluating a “percent plan,” addressing its inherent equity-efficiency tradeoff. The use of rich administrative records from a centralized, score-based university admissions system allows us to address key questions regarding enrollment and academic outcomes effects, which are informative for the ongoing affirmative action debate. In particular, we examine (i) access, (ii) mismatch, and (iii) validity for an admission policy implemented in Chile directed to top students graduating from disadvantaged high-schools.

(i) We use information on applicants' preferences to evaluate the “access” dimension. This data allows us to identify at which school-major combination students would have enrolled in the absence of the policy, if any. We find that the policy reallocated 84% of the beneficiaries to higher quality institutions (an intensive margin effect) and allowed enrollment for the remaining 16%, otherwise unable to obtain admission (the extensive margin effect).

 (ii) We then assess a version of the mismatch hypothesis, i.e., whether eligible students would have performed better in other majors had the policy not existed. Using a regression discontinuity on the class rank condition, we do not find evidence that they would have achieved higher persistence or graduation rates in less competitive majors and universities.

(iii) Finally, we evaluate the validity of the admission system, by comparing how beneficiaries perform as compared with the regularly admitted students in their same majors. Our results indicate that beneficiaries attain higher persistence rates, despite their having lower scores in the national admission test. A factor model analysis reveals that these low-income students are equipped with a set of noncognitive skills -not measured by test scores- that enable them to do well in post-secondary education.

Our findings suggest there may be an opportunity to move forward on equity without sacrificing the admissions system efficiency.