Panel: Addressing Pitfalls in the Pathway to College: Increasing Access to Postsecondary Education

Friday, November 9, 2018: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
8222 - Lobby Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Panel Chairs:  Daniel Klasik, George Washington University
Discussants:  Joshua Goodman, Harvard University

Experimental Impacts of Customized Information on College Aspirations
Albert Cheng and Paul E. Peterson, Harvard University

An Evaluation of the Educational Impact of College Campus Visits: A Randomized Experiment
Elise Swanson1, Katherine M Kopotic1, Gema Zamarro1, Jonathan N. Mills2, Jay P. Greene1 and Gary Ritter1, (1)University of Arkansas, (2)Tulane University

Testing a Social Innovation in Financial Aid for Low-Income Students: Experimental Evidence from Italy
Alberto P. Martini1, Barbara Romano2, Davide Azzolini3, Enrico Rettore4, Antonio Schizzerotto4 and Loris Vergolini3, (1)Università del Piemonte, (2)Fondazione Agnelli, (3)FBK-IRVAPP, (4)Universita di Trento

How an Artificially Intelligent Virtual Assistant Helps Students Navigate the Road to College
Lindsay C. Page, University of Pittsburgh and Hunter Gehlbach, University of California, Santa Barbara

Increased access to higher education for all students, and especially for those of disadvantaged backgrounds, is of great policy concern given the economic returns to higher education and the social implications of unequal access. For example, as of 2016, only 48% of the individuals aged 25-34 in the U.S. had any type of college degree. Moreover, there are significant gaps in attainment rates: only 27% of first-generation Americans aged 30-44 have a college degree, compared to 66% of individuals with at least one college-attending parent (OECD, 2017). These gaps reflect potential underlying barriers that prevent students from accessing tertiary education, in both the United States and other countries. This panel recognizes that academic readiness is not the only criterion for determining whether or not a student will attend college, and presents experimental evidence on multiple interventions that address non-academic barriers to postsecondary access.

In order for a student to enroll in college, she or he must navigate a series of steps between early and late adolescence, some of which are vague and some of which are clearly defined. First, the student must be interested in college and take “pro-college” actions throughout high school in order to be a competitive applicant and successful student in college. This interest may be impacted by the student’s self-image and prior experiences with college. Second, the student must feel she can go to college, which in large part may depend on the student’s (or her family’s) prior savings for college. Finally, even after being accepted to a college, the student must complete a series of tasks to actually matriculate. In this panel, we present three papers examining three different interventions designed to approach potential barriers in the process and increase postsecondary access.

We start at the beginning by examining whether concrete experiences on a college campus can increase student attitudes towards college, college knowledge, non-cognitive skills (such as grit and perspective taking) relative to information about how postsecondary options and how to prepare for them. We then examine whether governmental incentives to increase college savings can increase college enrollment among students from low-income backgrounds. Finally, we examine whether an Artificial Intelligence program can reduce summer melt and increase matriculation rates among admitted college students. All three papers on this panel make use of the gold-standard research design in social science, randomizing participants into treatment conditions so we are able to make strong causal claims of the impacts of these interventions on student outcomes. Further, these studies were conducted in a variety of locations—northwest Arkansas in the United States, Torino, Italy, and Atlanta, Georgia in the United States. Thus, we not only look broadly at how to increase postsecondary access, particularly for would-be first generation and low-income students, by targeting various pitfalls on the pathway to college, but we also look at how these interventions affect students in a variety of settings. 


Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). (2017). Education at a glance 2017: OECD Indicators. Paris: OECD publishing.

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