Perform Better, or Else: Academic Probation, Public Praise and Students Decision-Making

30 Pages Posted: 17 Mar 2018 Last revised: 21 Apr 2018

See all articles by Nicholas Wright

Nicholas Wright

Georgia State University - Department of Economics

Date Written: April 1, 2018


This paper examines how college initiatives that ascribe public recognition or written reprimand to a set standard of academic performance impact students decision-making. Many colleges utilize programs such as the Dean’s list and academic probation policies as mediums to encourage student success. These policies impose a future cost on affected students, either through the loss of acquired benefits or the threat of expulsion if they fail to perform above an established standard in future semesters. To meet these standards, treated students may be induced into increasing the effort they subsequently exert. In addition, they have an incentive to manipulate their behavior along non-effort dimensions, such as through the courses and/or instructors they select. Using the regression discontinuity design, I provide convincing evidence that the students that are treated by either the Dean’s list or academic probation policy improve their academic performance in subsequent semesters. However, an increased effort may be only one of the mechanisms through which students change their behavior following treatment. In particular, there is evidence that the Dean’s list policy induces treated students to select courses and instructors that are more likely to award higher grades and have a lower failure rate. Similarly, the results suggest that the academic probation policy causes students to improve their match quality by switching majors and to employ a maximin strategy for expected grades when choosing courses. This result does not change when the probation policy becomes more restrictive by an increase in the GPA treatment threshold.

Keywords: Public Praise, Academic Probation, Effort, Course Selection, Major, GPA

JEL Classification: D84, I20, I21, I23, J01

Suggested Citation

Wright, Nicholas, Perform Better, or Else: Academic Probation, Public Praise and Students Decision-Making (April 1, 2018). Andrew Young School of Policy Studies Research Paper Series. Available at SSRN: or

Nicholas Wright (Contact Author)

Georgia State University - Department of Economics ( email )

P.O. Box 3992
Atlanta, GA 30302-3992
United States

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