Theses Doctoral

Essays on the Economics of Education and Market Design

Nguyen, Thi Hoang Lan

This dissertation consists of three essays on the economics of education and market design. The first two chapters are united in their attention on school choice issues. Chapter 1 considers a specific application, whereas chapter 2 focuses on a matching mechanism widely used in multiple applications. Both chapters 1 and 3 explore equity concerns in education but through very different lenses (affirmative action vs. educational investment) and very different settings (the United States vs. Vietnam).
Chapter 1 addresses the diversity issue that is especially prevalent in elite schools that select students based on exams. Whereas previous studies only consider the direct impact on elite schools, I quantify the effects of two widely-discussed affirmative action plans on both elite and regular schools in New York City. I find that the two plans have quite different effects. First, there is a trade-off between improving diversity and maintaining student quality in elite schools as measured by state test scores in middle school. Despite taking into account the socioeconomic status of students' neighborhoods, the Chicago plan gives rise mostly to reshuffling within elite schools. Thus, both the overall racial composition and quality of incoming students are largely preserved as in the status quo. In contrast, the Top 7% plan, which would accept into the elite sector students in the top 7% by academic performance of each public middle school, causes considerable flows of students between the elite and regular sectors. The elite sector experiences a substantial increase in the proportions of Black and Hispanic students, along with a decrease in average student quality. Analyzing the difference between the outcomes of these two policies provides some insight into how the two objectives—diversity and peer quality in elite schools—might be better balanced in general. The second difference between the plans arises because they transform the distribution of diversity across schools in different ways. The Chicago plan reduces the differences among schools within the elite sector, while the Top 7% plan reduces the gap in diversity between the two sectors even as it increases within-sector dispersion. Both plans result in considerable changes in school assignments in the regular school sector, thus affecting the average student quality in these schools.
Chapter 2, joint work with Guillaume Haeringer and Silvio Ravaioli, uses a lab experiment to study learning dynamics when participants receive feedback in centralized matching mechanisms. Our design allows for two types of learning: to coordinate within the same environment as well as to understand the underlying mechanisms. We provide additional evidence to previous work that the majority of the deviations from truth-telling, the dominant strategy in the Deferred Acceptance mechanism, are those that do not affect payoffs. Furthermore, by explicitly analyzing learning, we can confirm that at least some of the participants learn about the optimality of truth-telling, and their departures from it happen primarily when they face the same environment being repeated. Finally, we find that when learning to coordinate, agents tend to retain their previous strategy when the payoff from this strategy is high. This is suggestive evidence of reinforcement learning.
Chapter 3 documents the pattern of educational investments for high school students across different demographics and their effects on performance on the college entrance exam and in college. Survey data from Vietnam shows that high school students from higher-income households have higher education expenditure and participation in extra classes (both at the extensive and intensive margin). Minority and rural students invest less than their non-minority and urban counterparts even after controlling for income. Out of these investments, only extra classes during the school year education expenditure other than that on extra classes are effective in increasing college entrance exam scores. In terms of college performance, a higher entrance exam score leads to a slightly higher grade point average at graduation, controlling for academic department fixed effects and investments in high school. Neither education expenditure or participation in extra classes in high school show any significant effects on college performance, except that already captured in the entrance exam scores. I record multiple gender differences. Female high school students tend to receive more investments. Even though they perform slightly worse on the entrance exam than their male peers with the same investments, they perform better in college, given the same entrance exam scores.

Geographic Areas


  • thumnail for Nguyen_columbia_0054D_15972.pdf Nguyen_columbia_0054D_15972.pdf application/pdf 3.34 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Che, Yeon-Koo
Urquiola, Miguel S.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 31, 2020