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Joint Labor Economics, CPC, PAM & Public Economics Workshop: Susan Dynarski

Monday, October 15, 2018 at 11:40am to 1:10pm

Ives Hall, 115
B07 Tower Rd, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA

Susan Dynarski, Professor, University of Michigan

The Power of Commitment: Estimating the Effect of a Tuition-Free Promise on College Choices of High-Achieving, Low-Income Students

Susan Dynarski *, C.J. Libassi, Katherine Michelmore, Stephanie Owen

Abstract: Low-income students are unlikely to attend a selective college, even if they have strong academic credentials. Increasing the number of low-income students attending selective universities has the potential to increase college graduation rates and reduce income inequality. We run a randomized, controlled trial among 4,000 students at 600 high schools to test an intervention to increase application and enrollment of low-income students at University of Michigan, a highly selective university. With the school's admission office, we design and deliver mailings to students, parents, and high school principals. Students are promised four years of tuition and fees if admitted, with no requirement to complete aid applications or pay application fees. We target rising seniors eligible for subsidized school meals whose ACT/SAT scores and GPAs make them plausible candidates for admission. Treated students were more than twice as likely to apply (67 percent vs. 26 percent) and enroll (27 percent vs. 12 percent). The intervention produced an additional 150 low-income enrollments in each cohort. The induced enrollees were diverted from community colleges (4 percentage points, off of a control mean of 12 percent), less-selective four-year colleges (7 pp or 11 percent), and non-attendance (4 pp or 20 percent reduction in non-attendance); we see zero diversion from other highly selective colleges. Effects persist into two years of follow-up, with treated students 8 and 14 percentage points more likely to spend two years at any college or a highly selective college, respectively. Student selection and follow-up rely on administrative data, and students were promised no more than expected aid, thereby making the intervention and study quite cost effective.


More information about the speaker can be found here:



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Event Type

Conference/Workshop, Seminar


Economics, Policy Analysis and Management, Cornell Population Center, Human Ecology Policy Analysis and Management


economics, EconSeminar, EconLabor, cpc, EconPublic, EconPAM



Contact E-Mail

Contact Name

Heather LaCombe

Contact Phone



Susan Dynarski

Speaker Affiliation

University of Michigan

Dept. Web Site

Open To

Cornell Economics Community (List Serve Members)