Essays in the Economics of Education

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This dissertation applies econometric methods to estimate the effects of education-related policies in three distinct contexts. Each policy that I examine is implemented at a different level of government, and each has repercussions for different levels and sectors of education in the United States. In the first chapter, I examine the effect of a federal policy on state education spending. The federal policy that I study is the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, which was designed to support state education spending during the Great Recession. I use two identification strategies to estimate how this aid program affected states' spending decisions, by sector (K-12 versus higher education) and recession intensity. First, using pre-recession data on each state's education spending as a share of funds, I estimate how federal aid altered spending relative to expected levels given coinciding changes in state revenues. Second, I exploit the program's spending requirements to estimate the effects of its maintenance-of-effort provisions and total-spending targets on states' spending decisions. I find that federal aid substantially increased state education spending during the treatment period, with states spending about all of the funds on education initially, and about 40% after three years. This high rate is partly explained by states' compliance with the program's spending requirements, which set a binding floor on many states' spending on higher education. As a result, higher education spending fell sharply after the program ended. In the second chapter, I estimate the effect of state occupational licensing policies on vocational higher education. I estimate the effects of different combinations of registration, training, and certification requirements on markets for vocational higher education, focusing on pharmacy technicians. Given recent attention to the growth of the for-profit college sector, I am particularly interested in how certain licensing requirements may affect for-profit relative to public colleges. Results show that registration requirements on their own have little effect. However, when states require the completion of a training program, college program completions increase substantially, with larger increases in the for-profit sector despite its higher prices. When states require the passage of an examination, professional certifications increase. In both cases, private entities such as for-profit colleges and private certifying bodies have taken on outsize roles, compared to publicly funded and subsidized community colleges and board-written exams. In the third chapter, my coauthors and I examine the effect of a single public school district's health policies on student outcomes. Public schools are an important setting for public health policy, and increased efforts to connect students with care may pay off not only in terms of immediate quality-of-life improvements but also in terms of other health outcomes and academic achievement. We estimate the effects of increased follow-up efforts within the New York City (NYC) Public School’s School Vision Program on a variety of student outcomes. With data from the NYC Office of School Health, we observe students' first and second vision screenings, physical fitness results, visits to the school nurse, attendance, and performance on 3rd grade standardized tests. We exploit a policy rule that targeted increased follow-up efforts to students with a worst visual acuity score of 20/70 or worse, which allows us to implement a regression-discontinuity design. We find robust effects of follow-up efforts on vision outcomes: confirmed eye-exams, wearing glasses in the next screening, passing the next screening, and having substantially improved visual acuity scores in the next screening. Our findings on health and academic outcomes are relatively small and inconsistent compared to those vision findings.

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198 pages


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Fitzpatrick, Maria D.

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Riehl, Evan
Lovenheim, Michael F.

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Ph. D., Economics

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Doctor of Philosophy

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dissertation or thesis

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