Panel Paper: Locked Up Means Locked Out: The Effects of the Anti-Drug Act of 1986 on Black Male Students’ College Enrollment

Thursday, November 2, 2017
Soldier Field (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Tolani Britton, Harvard University

While research documents that rates of college access and completion have increased during the past several decades, the trend data also reveal differences by race and gender. This paper explores one possible reason why college enrollment and graduation for Black men has grown at slower rates than for other groups. I explore whether the disproportionate increase in incarceration of Black males for marijuana possession and distribution increased gaps in college enrollment rates by race and gender after the passage of the Anti-Drug Act of 1986. I propose to use a differences-in-difference-in-differences strategy that will exploit both the federal law introduction and variation in state laws with regards to penalties and amounts of marijuana that triggers penalties for marijuana possession and distribution. For my analysis, I use two datasets: the Current Population Survey (CPS) October Supplements from 1984 – 1992 and a state level dataset that specifies state penalties in months for first possession or distribution of marijuana, the range of amount in grams that pertain to the stated penalties and monetary fines for these infractions in 1986, 1988, and 1990. I find that Black males had a 2.2% point decrease in the probability of college enrollment after the passage of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 as compared to Black males prior to the law change. The results have implications for understanding educational gaps by race and gender as the country looks to increase access to and retention in higher education and reform the criminal justice system, and in particular the educational and employment outcomes of drug offenders.