Experimental Evidence on the Effect of Childhood Investments on Postsecondary Attainment and Degree Completion

Susan M. Dynarski, Joshua M. Hyman, Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach

“Experimental Evidence on the Effect of Childhood Investments on Postsecondary Attainment and Degree Completion.” 2013. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 32:4, pp. 692-717. Coauthors: Joshua Hyman and Diane Schanzenbach. Lead article. Winner of the 2013 Vernon Prize for best article in JPAM.

Abstract

This paper examines the effect of early childhood investments on college enrollment and degree completion. We use the random assignment in the Project STAR experiment to estimate the effect of smaller classes in primary school on college entry, college choice, and degree completion. We improve on existing work in this area with unusually detailed data on college enrollment spells and the previously unexplored outcome of college degree completion. We find that assignment to a small class increases the probability of attending college by 2.7 percentage points, with effects more than twice as large among blacks. Among students enrolled in the poorest third of schools, the effect is 7.3 percentage points. Smaller classes increase the likelihood of earning a college degree by 1.6 percentage points and shift students towards high-earning fields such as STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), business and economics. We find that test score effects at the time of the experiment are an excellent predictor of long-term improvements in postsecondary outcomes.

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