Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Playing the admissions game

A recent NBER paper focuses on how student behavior has changed in reaction to the increasing competition for admission to elite colleges (resulting both from the growing size of the high school graduation cohorts, and the increasing rates of application to and attendance at college). They report that more students are taking AP exams, volunteering, and applying to more colleges.

Playing the Admissions Game: Student Reactions to Increasing College Competition by John Bound, Brad Hershbein, Bridget Terry Long - #15272 (ED LS)

Abstract: Gaining entrance to a four-year college or university, particularly a selective institution, has become increasingly competitive over the last several decades. We document this phenomenon and show how it has varied across different parts of the student ability distribution and across region, with the most pronounced increases in competition being found among higher-ability students and in the Northeast.
Additionally, we explore how the college preparatory behavior of high school seniors has changed in response to the growth in competition.
We also discuss the theoretical implications of increased competition on longer-term measures of learning and achievement and attempt to test them empirically; the evidence and related literature, while limited, suggests little long-term benefit.

"Overall, high school students in 2004 engaged in significantly more behavior associated with college preparation, on average, than did their counterparts from 10 and 20 years before. The share taking at least a semester of calculus in high school rose from 9.2 percent to 15.2 percent between 1982 and 2004. In just the 12 years from 1992 to 2004, the fraction of seniors having taken at least one Advanced Placement (AP) exam nearly doubled, from 16.5 to 30.9 percent." (p12) (but reported time spent on homework is down)

"...data from CIRP's Freshman Survey shows that the percentage of college
freshmen who regularly volunteered during their senior year of high school increased rapidly from about 45 percent in 1987 and 1988 up to about 70 percent by 2000, where it has roughly remained since." (p14)

"While 25 percent of students had applied to four or more schools in 1972, more than half had by 2004. Figure 4 shows that the percentage of students applying to seven or more schools rose from about 3 percent in 1972 to 18 percent in 2004. This implies that more than half of the increase among those applying to four or more schools is driven by those applying to seven or more schools; within the last ten years, more than three quarters of the increase
is from those applying to seven or more schools. The increase in application rates has been widespread throughout the selectivity distribution, with students at highly selective institutions not only sending more applications on average, but also increasing the number of applications sent at a faster pace earlier on.
Another proxy for college application behavior is the number of SAT score reports sent to various colleges.16 When taking the SAT, students are allowed to send up to four score reports at no additional marginal cost. However, in recent years, students have been sending far more score reports. As shown in the three panels of Figure 5, the number of scores sent (and the likelihood of sending more than four) rises dramatically with the student's score. For those with scores above 1400 (around the 97th percentile), the median number of reports sent is around eight, which suggests that even students with very high scores do not feel that they can rely on being accepted into a top school." (p19)

1 comment:

Josh Maher said...

So why isn't this continual increase in demand creating more high-end schools? Certainly exponential growth in applicants would mean that either the quality of top schools degrade, room for new top schools is created, or the second to the top schools begin to produce what used to be the quality of the top schools.

It seems the system in place (funding, accredidation requirements, etc) lends itself to restricting this growth