Peer-Reviewed Publications

Working Papers

​Labor Market Returns to Community College: Evidence from Admissions Lotteries  (under review)
Abstract: Community colleges enroll a third of all postsecondary students and have great promise addressing recent increases in the demand for skilled workers. In this paper I estimate the labor market returns to a particularly large and important degree, the Associate's Degree in Nursing (ADN). I use student-level academic and earnings records across two decades for all community college students in California. I capitalize on random variation from admissions lotteries to produce causal estimates of the effect of the ADN on earnings and employment. Enrolling in the program increases earnings by 55% and the probability of working in the healthcare industry by 23 percentage points. I also use an individual fixed effects approach and show that there is substantial heterogeneity in earnings returns across nursing programs. The returns are higher in areas with more occupational opportunities for nurses, but there is little difference across measures of college quality. In light of concerns about nursing shortages, I estimate that the economic value of expanding an ADN program by one seat far outweighs the costs.

Career Technical Education and Labor Market Outcomes: Evidence from California Community Colleges, with Michal Kurlaender and Ann Stevens
NBER Working Paper 21137, April 2015. (Revisions Requested at  Journal of Human Resources) 

Abstract: This paper estimates the earnings returns to vocational, or career technical, education programs in the nation’s largest community college system. While career technical education (CTE) programs have often been mentioned as an attractive alternative to four-year colleges for some students, very little systematic evidence exists on the returns to specific vocational certificates and degrees. Using administrative data covering the entire California Community College system and linked administrative earnings records, this study estimates returns to CTE education. We use rich pre-enrollment earnings data and estimation approaches including individual fixed effects and individual trends, and find average returns to CTE certificate and degrees that range from 12 to 23 percent. The largest returns are for programs in the healthcare sector; among non-health related CTE programs estimated returns range from five to ten percent.
MediaCEA Report on Student Debt; Chicago Policy ReviewUS News and World Report; Five Thirty Eight; Diverse Issues in Higher Education
BriefsUC Davis Center for Poverty Research 
Online Appendix: Sub-Discipline Level Estimates   

The Effect of Lower Transaction Costs on SSDI Application Rates and Participationwith Stephanie Rennane and Andrew Foote (under review)
We analyze how Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) application behavior was affected by iClaim, a 2009 innovation that streamlined the online application process and lowered costs to apply and appeal. We compare application rates before and after 2009 between counties with differential changes in application costs due to high speed internet access. While higher exposure to the online application led to a small increase in applications and more appeals, it decreased award rates. These results suggest that in counties with higher internet access, iClaim may have increased the share of marginal SSDI applicants or affect the quality of initial applications.

The Effect of Local Labor Market Downturns on Postsecondary Enrollment and Program Choice, with Andrew Foote (under review)
We examine the response of postsecondary enrollment to local labor market downturns. We use institution-level data on enrollment and credential completion for most two-year colleges across the country over the past two decades. We leverage local area counts of mass layoffs as a measure of discrete and acute labor market shocks. We find that for every 100 workers involved in a mass layoff, first-time fall enrollment increases by 3 students within three years. We also find heterogenous responses by field of study: the largest responses to mass layoff events are in fields with higher expected labor market returns. 

Long-term Effects of Head Start: New Evidence from the PSID, with Doug Miller and Na'ama Shenhav 
Abstract: The best available evidence of the long term impact of Head Start suggests that the program has a positive impact on participants’ economic and health outcomes.  However, many of these studies are limited by small sample size and are only able to examine outcomes during early adulthood. This study takes advantage of one of the largest longitudinal samples of Head Start participants, and the detailed information collected in the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, to identify the effects of Head Start on an index of economic and health outcomes up to age 40. Using a family fixed effects approach, we find that Head Start increases the likelihood of completing some college.  However we find little evidence for a strong effect on overall economic or physical well-being. In our discussion, we identify and discuss new methodological limitations of the family fixed effects approach with a binary independent variable. Our findings imply that our results reflect a local average treatment effect among “switcher” families - that may not be generalizable to the population - and therefore that alternative approaches should be taken to gain additional evidence about the long term impact of Head Start.

Do Community Colleges Respond to Labor Market Trends?
Abstract: I analyze the connection between community college programs and employment in related occupations. I match student-level administrative records from all California community colleges to occupation-level Census data. I first compare overall trends in the occupational and skill distribution of employment to trends in community college degrees and certificates. I then estimate that an occupation whose share of employment grows by one percentage point has its share of community college completions grow by 0.47 percentage points. I attribute this modest relationship primarily to increases in student demand rather than to colleges opening new course sections or hiring additional faculty.

In Progress
  • School Infrastructure Spending and Academic Outcomes, with Ross Milton
  • Community College Capacity Constraints and Malleable Factors, with Michal Kurlaender and Ann Stevens
  • The Effect of Tuition Policy Changes on Academic Outcomes, with Annie Hines
  • Does Specific Labor Market Information Affect Major Choice? with Matt Naven