Theses Doctoral

Essays on Improving Access to Four-Year Colleges

Pippins, Theo

This dissertation includes three essays that examine the potential of policies, interventions, and curricula in improving transitions to four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. The first essay provides a novel investigation of New York City’s adoption of SAT School Day (SSD), which provides universal access to college entrance exams for high school juniors. I examine the causal impact of the policy on SAT taking and four-year college enrollment patterns for the first three post-policy cohorts. Using a two-way fixed effects differences-in-differences (DID) model, I find that the SSD policy increases SAT-taking rates by 20% but has little impact on four-year enrollment. These findings suggest that increased college entrance test participation alone is not sufficient to increase enrollment to four-year colleges.

The second essay provides a systematic review and meta-analysis of 19 studies on the causal impact of late pre-college advising interventions, which I refer to as LPCAIs. LPCAIs aim to connect juniors and seniors with pre-college advisors to guide them through the complex college application process. The studies use experimental and quasi-experimental designs to identify the causal effect of LPCAIs on postsecondary enrollment outcomes for historically underrepresented students. I find that the offer of an LPCAI, on average, increases postsecondary enrollment and improves institutional choices. However, the in-person advising format accounts for nearly all of the positive impact derived from LPCAIs. Several implications of these findings are discussed, particularly in the context of COVID-19.

The third chapter presents a correlational study that uses transcript data from a statewide community college system to estimate how well GPA, credit accumulation, and course taking at community college predict upward transfer and baccalaureate completion. While GPAs and credit accumulation rates in all academic branches are strong, positive predictors of transfer, GPAs in humanities are significantly more predictive of transfer compared to GPAs in non-humanities branches. GPAs and successful credit accumulation rates in humanities courses are also associated with greater likelihoods of baccalaureate completion, conditional on transfer. However, humanities courses are equally valid predictors of baccalaureate completion as courses in other academic branches. In contrast to strong academic performance, taking more courses in humanities, although associated with greater likelihoods of vertical transfer, is associated with lower likelihoods of baccalaureate completion.

Taken together, these essays contribute to our understanding of approaches to improve transitions to four-year colleges and universities. They also highlight the importance of academic preparation and advising within transitional pathways.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Economics and Education
Thesis Advisors
Cohodes, Sarah R.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
January 26, 2022