Returns to Education Quality for Low-Skilled Students: Evidence from a Discontinuity with Serena Canaan. Journal of Labor Economics, 2018, 36(2): 395-436 .

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Abstract: This paper studies the labor market returns to quality of higher education for low-skilled students. Using a regression discontinuity design, we compare students who marginally pass and marginally fail the French high school exit exam from the first attempt. Threshold crossing leads to an improvement in the quality, but has no effect on the quantity, of higher education pursued. Specifically, students who marginally pass are more likely to enroll in STEM majors and universities with better peers. Further, marginally passing increases earnings by 13.6 percent at the age of 27 to 29. Our findings show that low-skilled students experience large gains from having the opportunity to access higher quality post-secondary education.

Peer Quality and the Academic Benefits to Attending Better Schools. with Mark Hoekstra and Yaojing Wang. Journal of Labor Economics, 2018, 36(4): 841-884.

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Also Available as: NBER Working Paper No. 22337

Abstract: Despite strong demand for attending high schools with better peers, there is mixed evidence on whether doing so improves cognitive outcomes. We estimate the cognitive returns to high school quality using administrative data on a high-stakes college entrance exam in China that largely determines university admissions. To overcome selection bias due to endogenous sorting, we use a regression discontinuity design that compares applicants barely above and below high school admission thresholds. Results from across the distribution of school quality cutoffs indicate that while peer quality improves significantly for marginally admitted students, performance does not. However, we do find significant returns to attending elite Tier I high schools. Further evidence suggests that the returns to high school quality are driven by teacher quality, rather than by peer quality or class size.

Conscription and The Returns to Education: Evidence from a Regression Discontinuity. (Online Appendix) (Forthcoming at The Scandinavian Journal of Economics.)

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Media Coverage: Marginal Revolution; The Grumpy Economist; FranceTV (Blog section); National Affairs (Blog section)

Abstract: In 1997, the French government put into effect a law that permanently exempted young French male citizens born after Jan 1, 1979 from mandatory military service while still requiring those born before that date to serve. This paper uses a regression discontinuity design to identify the effect of peacetime conscription policies on education and labor market outcomes. Results indicate that conscription eligibility induces a significant increase in years of education but has no effect on employment and wages at the ages of 30 to 36. I then examine several competing hypotheses as to why labor market outcomes were unaffected, despite evidence of increased educational attainment. The interpretation most consistent with findings is that the average marginal return to the additional schooling induced by conscription was low.

High Performing Peers and Female STEM Choices in School. with Yaojing Wang (Accepted at Journal of Labor Economics)

Abstract: Women have historically been underrepresented in STEM majors and occupations, a gap that has persisted over time. There are concerns that this is related to academic choices made at an earlier age. The purpose of this paper is to examine how social environment affects women's STEM choices as early as high school. Using administrative data from China, we find that exposure to high-performing female peers in mathematics increases the likelihood that women choose a science track during high school, while more high-performing males decrease this likelihood. We also find that peer quality has persistent effects on college outcomes. Overall, there is little evidence of peer effects for boys. Our results suggest that girls doing well in mathematics provide an affirmation effect that encourages female classmates to pursue a STEM track.

Working Papers

Female Science Advisors and the STEM Gender Gap, with Serena Canaan

Abstract: In an effort to reduce the gender gap in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), policymakers often propose providing women with close mentoring by female scientists. This is based on the idea that female scientists might act as role models and counteract negative gender stereotypes that are pervasive in science fields. However, as of yet, there is still no clear evidence on the role of mentor or advisor gender in reducing the STEM gender gap. We use rich administrative data from a private 4-year college to provide some of the first causal evidence on the impact of advisor gender on women's STEM degree attainment. We exploit a unique setting where students are randomly assigned to academic advisors--who are also faculty members--in their freshman year of college. A college advisor's main role is to provide students with one-on-one personalized mentoring regarding course and major selection. Students declare a major at the end of their freshman year, after having had the opportunity to repeatedly interact with their advisors. We find that being matched to a female rather than a male science advisor substantially narrows the gender gaps in STEM enrollment and graduation, with the strongest effects occurring among students who are highly skilled in math. In contrast, the gender of an advisor from a non-science department has no impact on students' major choice. Our results suggest that providing close mentoring or advising by female scientists can play an important role in promoting women's participation and persistence in STEM fields.

Advisor Value-Added and Student Outcomes: Evidence from Randomly Assigned College Advisors, with Serena Canaan and Antoine Deeb

Abstract: The substantial rise in the college wage premium has led to large increases in post-secondary enrollment rates. However, many students fail to complete their degrees, and few invest in majors with the highest earnings potential such as those in STEM fields. To help students navigate the complexities of college, policymakers are increasingly advocating for the use of support services such as academic advising and mentoring. As of yet, much of the existing evidence on college advising comes from studies that focus on whether access to advising improves student outcomes. However, little is known about whether quality of advising impacts students' success. This paper provides the first causal evidence on the impact of college advisor quality on student outcomes. To do so, we exploit a unique setting where students are randomly assigned to faculty advisors during their first year of college. We find that higher advisor value-added (VA) substantially improves freshman year GPA, time to complete freshman year and four-year graduation rates. Additionally, higher advisor VA increases high-ability students' likelihood of enrolling and graduating with a STEM degree. Our results indicate that allocating resources towards improving the quality of academic advising may play a key role in promoting college success.

Work in Progress

Parental Leave and Neighbors' Labor Supply, with Ali Abboud and Serena Canaan

Do Students Respond to Non-Financial Incentives? Evidence from University Transfers across Majors