kitchen table math, the sequel

Friday, March 29, 2013


This paper shows that although the top ten percent of colleges are substantially more selective now than they were 5 decades ago, most colleges are not more selective. Moreover, at least 50 percent of colleges are substantially less selective now than they were then. This paper demonstrates that competition for space--the number of students who wish to attend college growing faster than the number of spaces available--does not explain changing selectivity. The explanation is, instead, that the elasticity of a student's preference for a college with respect to its proximity to his home has fallen substantially over time and there has been a corresponding increase in the elasticity of his preference for a college with respect to its resources and peers. In other words, students used to attend a local college regardless of their abilities and its characteristics. Now, their choices are driven far less by distance and far more by a college's resources and student body. It is the consequent re-sorting of students among colleges that has, at once, caused selectivity to rise in a small number of colleges while simultaneously causing it to fall in other colleges. I show that the integration of the market for college education has had profound implications on the peers whom college students experience, the resources invested in their education, the tuition they pay, and the subsidies they enjoy. An important finding is that, even though tuition has been rising rapidly at the most selective schools, the deal students get there has arguably improved greatly. The result is that the "stakes" associated with admission to these colleges are much higher now than in the past.

The Changing Selectivity of American Colleges Caroline M. Hoxby
NBER Working Paper No. 15446
October 2009
JEL No. H75,I2,J24
Not sure what she means by the 'deal' students get at a selective college.

Will let you know once I've skimmed the study....


ChemProf said...

I would believe this. My own institution used to be a school for the local upper crust, but now those folks send their kids back east to the Ivies. I have colleagues who still don't understand why we can't get the kinds of students we had in the 70's.

MagisterGreen said...

I'd wager the "deal" that students get a selective colleges boils down to the connections they make among this 'new elite' that's forming as these demographic changes in the college scene unfurl. Unlike in the past, when you might meet people from all walks of life at college, these days you're much more likely to self-select into groups that align with your preferred, well, whatever. Specialty, field, etc. Used to be doctors would marry their nurses, or some such, but nowadays they're much more likely to marry other doctors, and so forth.

This might suggest that college is doing a much better job of filtering the top end and casting the rest aside with the chaff than it has before. Used to be it didn't matter so much where you went to it does, but not in the way most might think.

SteveH said...

I just got done telling my son that we are not comparing the quality of differential equation classes at MIT versus RPI. Other factors are more important, like people, connections, location, and opportunities. However, there is a general difference as the level of school changes. Back when I taught college math and CS at a local private college, I could never teach computer graphics at the same level that I had at the U. of Michigan. You just can't flunk everyone.

I don't, however, think this change increases the difference between the haves and the have-nots. Only a few of the graduates from the elite colleges will survive solely on elitism. I think that legacy sort of trend is going away. I think it's much more merit-based now. If my son gets into an elite college, that might pay dividends for a while, but it really depends on what he does with it over the long term. There are too many other colleges and departments that are hidden treasures. Their graduates go off to the top schools for graduate work.

SteveH said...

"I show that the integration of the market for college education has had profound implications on the peers whom college students experience, the resources invested in their education, the tuition they pay, and the subsidies they enjoy."


How would the peers change if Harvard had an admissions rate of 25 percent rather than 7 percent due to lower demand? Harvard could fill it's class with valedictorians, but they don't. What would their freshman class look like if the demand was lower? Would it really be much different? Is there really that much extra value that is obtained at these elite colleges? What, exactly is the problem or trend that Hoxby is describing?

I've read claims that one might have fewer loans after graduation at some elite colleges, but I don't know if I believe that. Is demand for Harvard driven by a desire to save money? We just got done listening to a guidance counselor at our high school tell parents about a child who got accepted at a number of "top" colleges, but didn't get any discount on the retail price. I will have to email her to find out the details. I don't believe that either.

College demand is way up. People are more willing to go further away at the elite level, especially from overseas. The elite colleges don't want to or need to expand enrollment, but many of the lower level colleges are very happy to do so. The elite colleges are basking in glow of the higher demand, and prospective students are willing to work harder for what might be minor intangibles.

I also don't think that these changes (demand, mobility)create a discontinuity in the college world. Those high percentage of students who don't get into the elite colleges go somewhere. Top colleges don't have a lock on cherry picking the best students. Also, some of those top students who become professors have to go somewhere. Elite schools can become a little "old-heavy". If you know the paricular area you want to study, you can often find the best department and mentors at some very un-elite schools.