TAs Like Me: Racial Interactions between Graduate Teaching Assistants and Undergraduates

Lester Lusher, Doug Campbell, Scott Carrell

NBER Working Paper No. 21568
Issued in September 2015
NBER Program(s):Economics of Education Program, Labor Studies Program, Public Economics Program

Over the past 40 years, higher education institutions in the U.S. have experienced a dramatic shift in the racial composition of students enrolled in both undergraduate and graduate programs. Using administrative data from a large, diverse university in California, we identify the extent to which the academic outcomes of undergraduates are affected by the race/ethnicity of their graduate student teaching assistants (TAs). To overcome selection issues in course taking, we exploit the timing of TA assignments, which occur after students enroll in a course, and we estimate models with both class and student fixed effects. Results show a positive and significant increase in course grades when students are assigned TAs of a similar race/ethnicity. These effects are largest in classes where TAs are given advanced copies of exams and when exams had no multiple choice questions. We also find that assignment to similar race TAs positively affect both section and office hour attendance, suggesting that TA-student match quality and role model effects are the primary drivers of the results.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w21568

Published: Lester Lusher & Doug Campbell & Scott Carrell, 2018. "TAs like me: Racial interactions between graduate teaching assistants and undergraduates," Journal of Public Economics, vol 159, pages 203-224. citation courtesy of

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