Theses Doctoral

Three Essays on the Impact of Cost-saving Strategies on Student Outcomes

Xu, Di

For two decades, state financing of higher education has been on the decline and the situation has exacerbated since the onset of the economic recession, where the US state systems have resorted to a substantial cut of funding for higher education. Faced with the challenges of limited resources for financial pressure and an increasing demand, community colleges either have taken or are considering taking a series of cost-saving strategies. Some of the most prominent trends seen in the past decades include sharp expansions in distance education offerings through online coursework, an increasing reliance on part-time adjunct faculty, and a heated discussion about slashing expenditures on remedial education. Yet, many researchers argue that these strategies might be implemented at the cost of poorer educational quality and less desirable student outcomes. My dissertation assesses the impacts of several important strategies that community colleges are engaged in an era of financial constraints on student academic outcomes and educational equality. In Chapter One, Shanna Smith Jaggars and I examine the fast growth of distance education and its impacts on student outcomes relative to traditional face-to-face delivery format. Based on a large administrative data set from Washington State, we found robust negative estimates for online learning in terms of both course persistence and course grade. While all types of students in the study suffered decrements in performance in online courses, we also identified strong variations across subpopulations and academic subject areas. Chapter Two is prompted by the spiraling increase in part-time faculty hiring in open-access two-year community colleges. Based data from a large community college system, I identified a positive impact of taking one's first course in a subject area on his contemporaneous course performance but negative impacts on subsequent course outcomes and enrollment patterns. Finally, Chapter Three is inspired by the heated debate related to the effectiveness of college remediation. Exploiting discontinuities in students' probability of receiving remediation both around the college-level cut off and the cut off for short versus long sequence of remediation, I found small and insignificant impacts of remediation for students on the margin of needing remediation, but significantly negative influence on students receiving long sequence of remediation compared to those who received short sequence. These results suggest that some cost-saving strategies that colleges are recently engaged may bring negative impacts on student learning outcomes, and therefore policymakers and college administrators may need to take steps to ensure the quality of education offered to students before enacting policies that would incentivize an accelerated expansion of online enrollments, and overreliance on adjunct instructors. Additionally, the insignificant and negative impact of remediation suggests that the huge investment in remediation may not have been effectively utilized to serve its purpose and colleges will need to explore ways to improve its effectiveness.


  • thumnail for Xu_columbia_0054D_11450.pdf Xu_columbia_0054D_11450.pdf application/pdf 843 KB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Economics and Education
Thesis Advisors
Bailey, Thomas R.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 31, 2013