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

Susan Dynarski, Joshua M. Hyman, Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach

NBER Working Paper No. 17533
Issued in October 2011
NBER Program(s):   CH   ED   LS   PE

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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This paper was revised on July 12, 2013

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w17533

Published: Experimental Evidence on the Effect of Childhood Investments on Postsecondary Attainment and Degree Completion (with Joshua Hyman and Diane Schanzenbach). 2013. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 32:4, pp. 692-717 (lead article). Ray Vernon Memorial Prize for best paper in JPAM.

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