Graziella Bertocchi, Monica Bozzano, 05 October 2020

For most of history, women have been undereducated relative to men. While the gender gap in education has closed – and even reversed – in recent times, sharp differences still exist across levels of education and countries. Even where women have outpaced men in educational attainment, gender gaps in employment, entrepreneurship and politics persist. Women are visibly underrepresented in STEM and economics – fields typically lead to higher employability and wages. This column reviews the historical roots of the gender gap, which, despite changing conditions and incentives, continue to exert an influence through labour markets, family formation dynamics, and cultural factors. 

Esteban Aucejo, Jacob French, Paola Ugalde Araya, Basit Zafar, 09 August 2020

New research is emerging which evaluates how COVID-19 has already impacted a generation of students. This column uses a survey of students at one of the largest public universities in the US to show that while pandemic has been broadly disruptive to students, this disruption has been much larger for lower-income students. This seems to be primarily driven by lower-income students being more likely to have been financially impacted by COVID-19 and more worried about the direct health risks from the virus.

Andrew Oswald, Nattavudh Powdthavee, 06 June 2020

Reopening universities for the autumn term will be risky for individuals' health and safety. This column describes the latest epidemiological evidence and argues that the biggest influence on individuals’ risk of severe illness is age. Individuals in their sixties face a 30 times higher fatality risk from COVID-19 than individuals in their thirties. Being obese, non-white, a man, and having an underlying health condition also matter – each roughly doubles the fatality risk.  But chronological age still remains the biggest risk – a fact that universities should keep in mind when planning their autumnal schedules.

Peter Dolton, 31 May 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing serious financial problems for UK universities. This column identifies the over-reliance on Chinese students for fee income as the main cause of the impact and considers what steps the government might take to support universities through this crisis.

Peter Arcidiacono, Josh Kinsler, Tyler Ransom, 22 January 2020

Many elite universities in the US send recruitment materials to secondary school students in an effort to enlarge their applicant pools. This column focuses on Harvard University and documents a sudden increase in African American applications, driven by those with lower entrance exam scores, which did not result in a larger share of African American admits. It discusses possible motivations for this practice of recruiting applicants, particularly African Americans, who essentially have no chance of being admitted. 

Marco Di Maggio, Ankit Kalda, Vincent Yao, 07 September 2019

Rising student debt is considered one of the creeping threats of our time. This column examines the effect of student-debt relief on individual credit and labour market outcomes. Following debt relief, distressed borrowers reduce their indebtedness by 26% and are 11% less likely to default on other accounts. After the discharge, the borrowers’ geographical mobility and probability of changing jobs increase. Ultimately, their income increases by about $3,000 over a three-year period. 

Maria Paula Cacault, Christian Hildebrand, Jeremy Laurent-Lucchetti, Michele Pellizzari, 23 June 2019

Distance learning technologies are attracting attention as demand for higher education grows around the world, but credible evidence on their effects on students’ outcomes is scarce. This column studies the impact of online live streaming of lectures on student achievement and attendance in a experiment with first-year undergraduate students at the University of Geneva. It finds that students use the live streaming technology only when events make attending class too costly, and that attending lectures via live streaming lowers achievement for low-ability students but increases it for high-ability ones.

Joshua S. Goodman, Oded Gurantz, Jonathan Smith, 04 November 2018

Retaking college entrance exams can only improve students’ chances of being admitted to a college, yet little is known about students’ decisions to retake them and the impact of retaking. This column uses data on over 10 million SAT takers from the high school classes of 2006-2014 to show that the increases resulting from retaking are large enough to drive substantial improvements in college enrolment outcomes, and that retaking appears to close college enrolment gaps by income and race.

Seth Zimmerman, 08 October 2018

Graduates of top universities hold a large share of leadership positions in big firms. At the same time, elite universities are aiming to expand access to middle- and low-income students. Yet, it is unclear whether the benefits of attending top universities accrue to students from poor backgrounds. This column examines new evidence from Chile and finds that admission to highly selective, business-focused degree programmes has very large effects on the rates at which male students from wealthy backgrounds attain top jobs and incomes, but little or no effect for female students and non-wealthy male students.

Gill Wyness, Richard Murphy, Judith Scott-Clayton, 21 October 2017

The question of who should pay for higher education continues to be hotly debated across the world. This column uses the case of the English higher education system to examine whether it is possible to charge relatively high tuition fees and at the same time protect enrolments, access, and university quality. The analysis shows that since the move from a free higher education system to a high-fee, high-aid system, university enrolment has increased substantially, with students from the poorest backgrounds experiencing the fastest increases in participation. Moreover, university funding per head has recovered dramatically since the introduction of fees.

Arnaud Chevalier, Peter Dolton, Melanie Lührmann, 15 July 2017

Feedback has been found to improve exam performance in the context of higher education, but demand for feedback is low among students when obtaining it requires unrewarded effort. This column evaluates how the provision of extrinsic incentives affects students’ effort and performance. Having online learning assessments count towards final grades is found to trigger large participation increases, and better subsequent exam performance. Given the low cost of these interventions, they offer particular promise in higher education.

Ken Mayhew, 25 April 2017

Higher education authorities are concerned about the implications of Brexit for the income and international standing of UK universities – the possible reduction in the numbers of EU students and staff and the loss of EU research funding. This column explores these threats and argues that there may be real cause for concern among lower ranking institutions faced by the perfect storm of Brexit, a general toughening of immigration rules, and greater competition promised in the UK government’s recent White Paper on higher education. 

Anna Valero, John Van Reenen, 10 November 2016

Growth in higher education has been driven by the view that human capital is essential for economic and social progress. This column uses a comprehensive international dataset covering 78 countries to show that on average, a 10% increase in the number of universities (roughly adding one more university to the average region in the data) increases a region’s income by 0.4%, with additional effects spilling over to other regions within the same country. In the UK context, the benefits of university expansion are likely to far outweigh the costs.

Sandra Black, Amy Filipek, Jason Furman, Laura Giuliano, Ayushi Narayan, 04 August 2016

Student debt has been rapidly rising in the US over the last 20 years. This column explores how this rise is affecting borrowers and the economy today. With the college earnings premium near historical levels, student loans facilitate excellent investments on average, and most borrowers are paying down their debt with little risk to the overall economy. However, borrowers who attend low quality schools or fail to complete a degree face real challenges with repayment. 

Scott Carrell, Mark Hoekstra, Elira Kuka, 25 April 2016

Bad behaviour by peers is well-known to worsen educational outcomes in the short run. This column investigates the long-run effects of peers from families marked by domestic violence. Individual-level US data linking middle and high school test scores, college enrolment, and earnings at ages 24–28 show that students exposed to more disruptive peers experience worse adult outcomes. Policies that mitigate exposure to disruptive peers could pay high dividends.

Jeffrey Brown, Chichun Fang, Francisco Gomes, 23 March 2015

College-educated workers are less likely to experience unemployment, but their lifetime earnings are also much more uncertain. This column estimates the risk-adjusted value of college education to be between $225,000 and almost $600,000, corresponding to risk-adjusted increases in total present-value lifetime wealth of 35% to 48%. Increased earnings volatility actually decreased the risk-adjusted value of college between 1968–1980 and 1991–2011 by almost $50,000, even though expected lifetime income increased by about $150,000. Nevertheless, even the most conservative estimates of the value of college education are still positive.

Ian Fillmore, 04 March 2015

Colleges in the US charge high sticker prices but routinely offer discounts to individual students. This column presents research showing that colleges use a student’s federal aid form to learn about willingness-to-pay and to engage in substantial price discrimination in a way that amounts to a tax on income, with the primary effect of increasing tuition revenues. Nevertheless, the price discrimination also results in some redistribution to low-income students as well as a modest increase in student–college match quality.

Amanda Goodall, John McDowell, Larry Singell, 31 January 2014

Much of human knowledge is produced in the world’s university departments, yet little is known about how these hundreds of thousands of departments are best organised and led. This column explores the association between the personal research output of a department head and the department’s subsequent performance. Results suggest that if a department wants to improve its reputation in the world, then the chair should be a highly cited researcher.

Daniel Sgroi, 11 November 2013

In the upcoming UK Research Excellence Framework, a small panel of academics are tasked with rating thousands of academic submissions, which will result in university departments being ranked and public money being distributed. Given the enormity of the task and the scarcity of the resources devoted to it, this article discusses a straightforward procedure that might help, based on exactly the Bayesian methods that academic economists study and teach when considering the problem of decision-making under uncertainty.

John McCormack, Carol Propper, Sarah Smith, 07 November 2013

The conventional wisdom is that managing academics is futile. This column challenges this view by comparing management performance in UK universities with measures of research and teaching quality. Universities with better management have better performance. This holds for all types of universities, and the results are not driven by differences in resources. Recruitment, retention, and promotion are the most important aspects of management in universities, but management at the level of academic departments – not human resources departments – is what matters.

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