Current Issue: Volume 13, Issue 1, Winter 2018

Education Finance and Policy - Volume 13, Issue 1, Winter 2018

Presidential Essay

Impact and Your Death Bed: Playing the Long Game. Dan Goldhaber. Education Finance and Policy Winter 2018, Vol. 13, No. 1, pp. 1–18.

I attended my first Association for Education Finance and Policy (AEFP) conference (then American Education Finance Association) in 1995 in Savannah, Georgia. The world of education research has changed a great deal since then, but I suspect what has not changed for most people in the “education research community” (a term meant to include education researchers, policy makers, practitioners, and other wonks) is the underlying reason we are all here. In short, we want to engage in, or with, research that matters, research that helps education institutions improve the academic and life outcomes of students.

At its heart, this essay is about whether education research matters for students.1 Thus, it's useful to begin with a definition: for this essay, I will define death-bed impact as the direct line between education research and student outcomes. Yes, it's a bit macabre, but the distinction between the impact that you really care about versus the various ways that research impact is measured (for instance, many academics and researchers conceive of impact as the number of citations or the impact factor of the journal in which they publish) is important for what follows.


Intensive College Counseling and the Enrollment and Persistence of Low-Income Students. Benjamin Castleman, and Joshua Goodman. Education Finance and Policy Winter 2018, Vol. 13, No. 1, pp. 19–41.

Though counseling is one commonly pursued intervention to improve college enrollment and completion for disadvantaged students, there is relatively little causal evidence on its efficacy. We use a regression discontinuity design to study the impact of intensive college counseling provided by a Massachusetts program to college-seeking, low-income students that admits applicants partly on the basis of a minimum grade point average requirement. Counseling shifts enrollment toward four-year colleges that are less expensive and have higher graduation rates than alternatives students would otherwise choose. Counseling also improves persistence through at least the second year of college, suggesting a potential to increase the degree completion rates of disadvantaged students.

Online Course-taking and Student Outcomes in California Community Colleges. Cassandra M.D. Hart, Elizabeth Friedmann, and Michael Hill. Education Finance and Policy Winter 2018, Vol. 13, No. 1, pp. 42–71.

This paper uses fixed effects analyses to estimate differences in student performance under online versus face-to-face course delivery formats in the California Community College system. On average, students have poorer outcomes in online courses in terms of the likelihood of course completion, course completion with a passing grade, and receiving an A or B. These estimates are robust across estimation techniques, different groups of students, and different types of classes. Accounting for differences in instructor characteristics (including through the use of instructor fixed effects) dampens but does not fully explain the estimated relationships. Online course-taking also has implications for downstream outcomes, although these effects are smaller. Students are more likely to repeat courses taken online, but are less likely to take new courses in the same subject following courses taken online.

Postsecondary Schooling and Parental Resources: Evidence from the PSID and HRS. Steven J. Haider, and Kathleen McGarry. Education Finance and Policy Winter 2018, Vol. 13, No. 1, pp. 72–96.

We examine the association between young adult postsecondary schooling and parental financial resources using two datasets that contain high-quality data on parental resources: the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) and the Health and Retirement Study (HRS). We find the association to be pervasive—it exists for income and wealth, it extends far up the income and wealth distributions, it remains even after we control for a host of other characteristics, and it continues beyond simply beginning postsecondary schooling to completing a four-year degree. Using the Transition to Adulthood supplement to the PSID, we also find that financial resources strongly affect postsecondary schooling for all levels of high school achievement, and particularly for those at the highest level.

Mass Instruction or Higher Learning? The Impact of College Class Size on Student Retention and Graduation. Eric P. Bettinger, and Bridget Terry Long. Education Finance and Policy Winter 2018, Vol. 13, No. 1, pp. 97–118.

This paper measures the effects of collegiate class size on college retention and graduation. Class size is a perennial issue in research on primary and secondary schooling. Few researchers have focused on the causal impacts of collegiate class size, however. Whereas college students have greater choice of classes, selection problems and nonrandom sorting make it difficult to estimate causal impacts. Using unique data and exogenous variation in class size, we estimate the impacts of class size using a sample of nearly 60,000 four-year college students. Using an instrumental variables approach to control for selection bias, the results suggest an increase in collegiate class size leads to an increase in dropout rates and a reduction in on-time degree completion, but no change in long-run degree completion.

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