Keeping College Options Open: A Field Experiment to Help All High School Seniors Through the College Application Process
Recent research suggests that the college application process itself prevents access. This paper reports results from a large school-based experiment in which application assistance is incorporated into the high school curriculum for all graduating seniors at low-transition schools. Over three workshops, students were guided to pick programs of interest that they were eligible for, apply for real, and complete the financial aid application. The goal was to create a college option for exiting students to make the transition easier and more salient. On average, the program increased application rates from 64 to 78 per cent. College enrolment increased the following school year by 5.2 percentage points with virtually all of this increase in two-year community college programs. The greatest impact was for students who were not taking any university-track courses in high school: the application rate for these students increased by 24 percentage points with a nine per cent increase in two-year college enrolment. A second experiment was conducted two years later to explore several variations of the program. Offering personal assistance without waiving application fees had a negligible or even negative impact on applications and enrollment. Using laptops in homeroom classrooms instead of sending students to computer labs while combining the initial 2 workshops into one full-morning session increased application rates. However, subsequent enrollment effects were negligible. We provide some evidence consistent with the possibility that decreased guidance in choosing eligible programs was responsible for the second-experiment's decline in enrollment impacts.
This project would not have been possible without the support and enthusiasm of many people. The Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities (MTCU), partnered with the Ministry of Education and the Social Research and Demonstration Corporation (SRDC) to fund and implement the experiment. We are especially grateful to Noah Morris, Jean-Pierre Voyer, Sam Andrey, Chris Ste-Croix, Travis Coulter, Galina Buryak, Jennifer Da Silva, Lisa Stanley, Noemi Varga and Doug Calderwood-Smith from MTCU for championing the research. SRDC staff members Dominique Leonard, Sheila Currie, Heather Smith Fowler, Claudia Nicholson, Danielle Patry, Isaac Kwakye, Natalie Conte, Bart Millson, Taylor Shek-wai Hui provided expert field operational and data analytical experience. We are grateful to both Tony Tullio and Inorbital as well as Honrio Cham and Radii for helping develop the program's website in different phases, Laurie Labelle for designing the program's brochures and other materials, Ryan Dunn and Jason Rogers for developing the financial aid calculator, Matt Boire and Sabina Dobrer for developing the 'Where Would You Go' tool and Boaz Beeri for producing its videos. We also greatly benefited from the facilitators who delivered the program and Shayne Hillier who provided IT field support. And we are indebted to all the principals, counselors, teachers, and students who participated in the program as well as the staff at OSAP, OUAC and OCAS who supported the application processes. Comments and feedback from several seminars and conferences were also greatly appreciated. Any errors or omissions are the sole responsibility of the authors. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Philip Oreopoulos & Reuben Ford, 2019. "Keeping College Options Open: A Field Experiment to Help all High School Seniors Through the College Application Process," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, vol 38(2), pages 426-454. citation courtesy of