Education Policy Seminar Series - Spring 2014

Please note that Ben Castleman's talk was video recorded and live streamed. This video is now available online.

Benjamin L. CastlemanPrompts, Personalization, and Pay-offs: Using Behavioral Nudges to Help Students Navigate Complex Postsecondary Decisions

Ben Castleman, School of Education and Human Development, University of Virginia
Monday March 24th 2014, 12:30-2:00 PM


Ben Castleman is an Assistant Professor of Education and Public Policy at the University of Virginia. Ben’s research focuses on policies to improve college access and success for low-income students. Several of his papers examine innovative strategies to deliver high-quality information about the college-going process to low-income students and their families, and to ease the process of students and families getting professional support when they need assistance. He has conducted several randomized trials to investigate how the offer of additional support during the summer after high school impacts the rate and quality of low-income students’ college enrollment. In addition, Ben uses quasi-experimental methods to study the impact of state and federal need-based grant programs on students’ long-term collegiate outcomes. He is a recipient of a National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation Dissertation Fellowship and a Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Dissertation Fellowship. Ben is a Lumina Foundation/Institute for Higher Education Policy Academic Fellow, and is a recipient of the K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders award, given annually by The Association of American Colleges and Universities. His research has been featured on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, as well as in Time Magazine, USA Today, and the Huffington Post.

Talk Abstracts: Dr. Castleman will be discussing two working papers.
First, 'Prompts, Personalization, And Pay-Offs: Strategies To Improve The Design And Delivery Of College And Financial Aid Information'. Policy-makers and researchers have devoted increasing attention to how the accessibility and presentation of college and financial aid information impacts whether students apply to college or for financial aid, and the college choices students make. This recent focus on informational barriers to college entry and success for low-income students has in turn prompted numerous federal initiatives to improve the quality of information that students and their families can access about college and financial aid. However, will the availability of simpler and more personalized information be sufficient to mitigate the informational obstacles that prevent low-income students from attending colleges and universities that are well-matched to their abilities and interests? In this essay I synthesize recent research in the behavioral sciences to identify strategies for improving the design and delivery of college and financial aid information. I highlight several recent experimental interventions that apply concepts from these disciplines to further improve the design and delivery of college and financial aid information. Finally, I propose several additional interventions that could meaningfully impact students’ decisions at various stages in the college exploration, application, and choice processes.
Second, 'Summer Nudging: Can Text Messages and Peer Mentors Increase College Going Among Low-Income High School Graduates?'. Recent research documents substantial summer attrition among high school graduates who have been accepted to college and declared an intention to enroll immediately after high school. We report on two large-scale experiments investigating the role of technology and peer mentor outreach in mitigating summer attrition. An automated and personalized text messaging campaign to remind students of required pre-matriculation tasks substantially increased college enrollment among students who had less access to college planning supports. A peer mentor intervention increased four-year college enrollment. Both strategies are cost-effective approaches to increase college entry among populations traditionally underrepresented in higher education.

Changing Distributions: How Online College Classes Alter Student and Professor Performance.

Eric Bettinger, Stanford Graduate School of Education, Stanford University
Monday April 14th 2014, 12:30-2:00 PM

Dr. Bettinger's current research focuses on factors that improve students' access to and success in college. Some of these factors include the role of teacher characteristics and class sizes in college, the role of need-based financial aid, and the complexity of the college application process. Bettinger has also conducted significant research on the effects of financial incentives for students and on the effects of voucher programs on both academic and non-academic outcomes of participating students.

Talk Abstract: In most sectors of education, teachers are an integral part of the classroom, and they have large effects on students’ short-run and even long-run outcomes.  We investigate the extent to which this is true in online college education.  Online college course which are becoming increasingly popular may change the underlying interactions between students and their instructors.  Using data from DeVry University, we examine how online courses affect student achievement.  We also provide a decomposition of the variance of student outcomes into the parts attributable to students and professors respectively.  The results suggest that instructors explain very little of the variance of student outcomes in online college courses.  This is true when we examine students who take courses in both traditional and online settings, when we examine professors who teach in both settings, and when we control for selection into who takes online college courses.  The results seem to suggest that substantial standardization in order to capture economies of scale in online education lead to decreased variance in professor actions a reduced role of professors in explaining variation in student learning.

The Impacts of Expanding Access to High-Quality Preschool Education

Elizabeth U. Cascio, Department of Economics
, Dartmouth College
Monday April 28th 2014, 12:30-2:00 PM

Elizabeth U. Cascio is an Associate Professor of Economics at Dartmouth College, a Research Associate in the Programs on Education, Development of the American Economy, and Children at the National Bureau of Economic Research, and a Research Associate at the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA). Her research addresses questions in the economics of education using diverse empirical techniques and data from historical and administrative records, legal archives, publicly available surveys, and experiments. A central goal of her research to date has been to understand the implications of a series of historic policy changes that began in the 1960s – the large wave of state subsidization of early education, the introduction of progressive federal funding for K-12 education, the political mobilization of African Americans after the Voting Rights Act, and school desegregation. In a separate line of research, she has also aimed to uncover the extent to which the effects of schooling on human capital accumulation vary across the lifecycle. Cascio’s research has been funded by the Spencer Foundation, the University of Kentucky Center for Poverty Research, and the National Science Foundation, and has been published in outlets including the Quarterly Journal of Economics, American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, the Journal of Human Resources, and the Journal of Urban Economics. She received her Ph.D. in economics from the University of California at Berkeley in 2003.

Download PDF of this paper.

Talk Abstract: President Obama’s “Preschool for All” initiative calls for dramatic increases in the number of 4 year olds enrolled in public preschool programs and in the quality of these programs nationwide. The proposed program shares many characteristics with the universal preschools that have been offered in Georgia and Oklahoma since the 1990s. This study draws together data from multiple sources to estimate the impacts of these “model” state programs on preschool enrollment and a broad set of family and child outcomes. We find that the state programs have increased the preschool enrollment rates of children from lower- and higher-income families alike. For lower-income families, our findings also suggest that the programs have increased the amount of time mothers and children spend together on activities such as reading, the chances that mothers work, and children’s test performance as late as eighth grade. For higher-income families, however, we find that the programs have shifted children from private to public preschools, resulting in less of an impact on overall enrollment but a reduction in childcare expenses, and have had no positive effect on children’s later test scores



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