The Consequences of Increasingly Competitive College Admissions

Mon, 24 Aug 2009 13:42:45 +0000

Two new NBER working papers on a similar theme came across my inbox this morning:

The Rug Rat Race

After three decades of decline, the amount of time spent by parents on childcare in the U.S. began to rise dramatically in the mid-1990s. Moreover, the rise in childcare time was particularly pronounced among college-educated parents. Why would highly educated parents increase the amount of time they allocate to childcare at the same time that their own market returns have skyrocketed? After finding no empirical support for standard explanations, such as selection or income effects, we offer a new explanation. We argue that increased competition for college admissions may be an important source of these trends. The number of college-bound students has surged in recent years, coincident with the rise in time spent on childcare. The resulting “cohort crowding” has led parents to compete more aggressively for college slots by spending increasing amounts of time on college preparation. Our theoretical model shows that, since college-educated parents have a comparative advantage in college preparation, rivalry leads them to increase preparation time by a greater amount than less-educated parents. We provide empirical support for our explanation with a comparison of trends between the U.S. and Canada, and a comparison across racial groups in the U.S.

<!--break-->

Playing the Admissions Game, Student Reactions to Increasing College Competition

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.

Click on the links to download ($, unless you are at an academic institution that subscribes).