Panel Paper: Academic Program Choice in Secondary Education: Regression Discontinuity Evidence from Mexico City

Thursday, July 19, 2018
Building 3, Room 207 (ITAM)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Maria Elena Ortega Hesles, PraxEd and Shaun M Dougherty, University of Connecticut

Education systems around the world use an admission process to assign students to schools or academic tracks. Thus, one naturally asks whether it makes a difference to applicants’ educational opportunities and outcomes to which schools and academic tracks they apply and are offered admission to. Using data from Mexico City, where about 300,000 teenagers apply for a seat at one of the nearly 650 public high schools that focus on either a vocational or general track, we estimate the effect of just getting access to a high school focused on general versus vocational education.

We capitalize on the fact that students rank up to 20 individual schools, revealing preferences for schools and academic versus vocational tracks. Focusing on students whose preferences span these program boundaries, we combine the student’s revealed preferences for tracks and exogenous cutoffs for admission, to estimate the causal effect of being admitted to one track versus the other.

Our data include first-time applicants to high schools in greater Mexico City that span the fall academic years of 2005 through 2009, who we can observe for at least three years after initial entry. We use a sharp regression-discontinuity design to compare the high school graduation outcomes of students who were close to the cutoff but who just differed in whether they were or were not offered admission to a general track. Evidence suggests that being just admitted to a general track results in a reduction in the probability of graduating from high school.