We study whether the onset of the COVID-19 crisis affected the program choices of high school applicants in Sweden. Our analysis exploits the fact that the admission process consists of two stages: a preliminary round in which applicants initially rank programs in order of preference and a final round in which they can alter their preliminary rankings. In 2020, the timing of the two rounds happened to provide a unique pre- and post-crisis snapshot of applicants' preferences for various fields of study. Using school-level data on applicants' top-ranked programs for all admission rounds between 2016 and 2020, we implement a difference-in-differences method to identify the immediate effect of the crisis on demand for programs. We find no change in demand for academic programs, but a decline in top-ranked applications to some of the vocational programs. The declines are most pronounced and robust for several service-oriented programs, in particular those related to hotel and restaurant, which was the most adversely affected industry during the crisis. This finding suggests that labor market considerations influence the study choices made by relatively young students.
The effect of higher-stakes grades on student achievement (revised version expected in early spring 2022)
Educational interventions that increase the quality or quantity of school resources may have a limited impact on student achievement if students lack sufficient effort or motivation. A more effective way of raising achievement could be incentivizing students to perform well in school. In this paper, I study whether students respond to non-financial incentives for higher grades, exploiting a reform in Stockholm that made compulsory school grades the sole criteria for admission to high school. Using a difference-in-differences design, I find that the reform increased students’ grade point average in compulsory school by 10% of a standard deviation on average. Estimates of the unconditional quantile treatment effects show that the largest shifts occurred just above the middle of the grade distribution, where the performance incentives were strongest. I perform a variety of checks to support the hypothesis that these effects were driven by changes in student effort rather than changes in school grading practices. My findings suggest that behavioral responses from students drive the results. Thus, strengthening the performance incentives implicit in the design of the education system can have a positive effect on student achievement.
School inputs and student outcomes in adult education (revised version expected in mid-spring 2022)
This paper studies a large-scale educational expansion to evaluate whether shocks to school inputs have an impact on the academic achievement of adult education students. I analyze the spillover effects of a Swedish policy that temporarily doubled enrollment in adult education, thus putting considerable strain on school resources. Because the intervention targeted individuals age 25 and over, my analysis focuses on individuals under age 25 to mitigate concerns that changes in student composition drive my findings. First, I establish that students in regions subject to larger enrollment shocks also experienced stronger negative shocks to school inputs like teacher credentials and per-pupil expenditure. Then, I show that the stronger negative shocks to school inputs coincided with steeper declines in course completion. Taken together, the two sets of results suggest a causal link between school inputs and course dropout.
Link to latest version: Click here and go to chapter 2 of the thesis manuscript.
Degree selectivity and teachers' initial job placements (revised version expected in late spring 2022)
Teachers with stronger academic credentials tend to work in schools with students from more advantaged backgrounds. This paper contributes to an emerging literature on the mechanisms that drive these sorting patterns. With register data covering all college graduates and teachers in Chile between 2007 and 2020, I examine whether earning a more selective teaching degree has a causal effect on the type of schools where graduates teach at the start of their career. For identification, I exploit a college placement mechanism that generates hundreds of admission cutoffs around which access to more selective teaching programs is essentially random. Using the variation around these cutoffs in a regression discontinuity design, I find suggestive evidence that graduating from a more selective teacher program has an effect on teachers' initial job placements. In particular, it increases the probability of working in more urbanized areas and in publicly-subsidized private schools.
Link to latest version: Click here and go to chapter 3 of the thesis manuscript.
OTHER WORK IN PROGRESS
Peer gender composition and student outcomes in high school
(with Aino-Maija Aalto)