Convincing Kids to Go to College

A new NBER working paper (PDF; abstract) by economists Scott E. Carrell and Bruce Sacerdote finds that educational incentives, even those that are offered to students late in their senior year of high school, can impact college outcomes.  Here’s the abstract:

We present evidence from an ongoing field experiment in college coaching/ mentoring. The experiment is designed to ask whether mentoring plus cash incentives provided to high school students late in their senior year have meaningful impacts on college going and persistence. For women, we find large impacts on the decision to enroll in college and to remain in college. Intention to treat estimates are an increase in 15 percentage points in the college going rate (against a base rate of 50 percent) while treatment on the treated estimates are 30 percentage points. Offering cash bonuses alone without mentoring has no effect. There are no effects for men in the sample. The absence of effects for men is not explained by an interaction of the program with academic ability, work habits, or family and guidance support for college applications. However, differential returns to college and/or occupational choice may explain some of the differences in treatment effects for men and women.


Instead of wasting money in the 'college crap shoot' where there is no guarantee of you getting a return on your investment buy some land and some books and teach yourself. There is a general lack of Americans graduating with higher level degrees and there is complaints about this, but its not worth going into 200,000 in debt if you don't have some sort of reassurance. College is just too damn expensive and no longer a guarantee for employment, the market needs to respond.


In what fantasy world does anyone NEED to rack up $200K in debt to attend college for four years? Sure, the foolish CAN do that: attend Harvard, live in a luxury condo, drink a lot, take expensive vacations, &c, but it sure isn't necessary.

Neal Holly

I appreciate the authors' research approach and design. I would have liked to have seen included some measure of college persistence included. One of the challenges of increasing access has been retaining and supporting students through degree completion. Although the financial incentive offered here had a positive effect on women on the enrollment bubble, it might have a detrimental effect on their performance at college. If a student were to drop-out of college prior to completion with debt, it would erase any gains from the original incentive. It would be interesting to have another incentive for "at risk" students once they were enrolled, to see if further coaching and assistance would improve degree completion.


On the counterpoint side, The Daily Show correspondent Aasif Mandvi has a great bit where he tries to scare potential college students into not going to college:

The Daily Show tweets about it: "Nearly half college grads work jobs that don't require degrees. But they can use 'ennui' in a sentence. #CondolencePrize"


The important next step is to follow up on the college success of these students:
1. How many needed remedial work?
2. How many eventually graduated, in what majors, and when?
3. For those who didn't finish within six years, why not?

Do the reasons students at the margin have for not applying to college (procrastination, lack of information/support, etc.) carry over to college success? Or does the college experience change these?

Eric M. Jones

Hey, don't we now live in the post-higher-education age? Wasn't this decided years ago? Why are we still discussing this?

It's all online now. Cheeeeeeez.................

Enter your name...

It's all online now, but the employers still issue job descriptions that say things like "Four-year college degree required" for most of the better-paying jobs.


this is a great article of yours, i have my 2 teenagers and i'm just greatful that their not giving me a headache, they are very excited to go to college. nice admin. thanks for great info.


A study should be done about the viability of careers and jobs outside of college. What are the viable alternatives. Not everyone should go to college. There is a very discernible economic loss taking 4 "earning year$" away and incurring debt to do it.