Can Information Widen Socioeconomic Gaps in Postsecondary Aspirations? How College Costs and Returns Affect Parents’ Preferences for Their Children

39 Pages Posted: 18 Oct 2019

See all articles by Albert Cheng

Albert Cheng

University of Arkansas - Department of Education Reform

Michael Henderson

Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge

Paul E. Peterson

Harvard University - Department of Government (FAS); Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Martin R. West

Harvard Graduate School of Education

Date Written: Last Revised September 2019

Abstract

To estimate whether information can close socioeconomic gaps in parents’ aspirations for their child’s postsecondary education, we administer a four-armed survey experiment to a nationally representative sample of U.S. parents. After respondents estimate costs of and returns to further education, we ask whether they prefer that their child pursue a four-year degree, a two-year degree, or no further education. Before this question is posed, the treated are first told:

(1) the net annual costs of pursuing a four-year and two-year degree in their state,

(2) the annual returns to four-year and two-year degrees as compared to no further education in their local area, or

(3) both costs and returns. We find that information lowers aspirations overall and widens socioeconomic aspiration gaps.

These effects do not vary with the magnitude of error between estimated and actual costs and returns. However, we find positive impacts on aspirations among parents who think their child is academically prepared for college.

Keywords: College access, College aspirations, Socioeconomic gaps, College costs and returns, Information

Suggested Citation

Cheng, Albert and Henderson, Michael and Peterson, Paul E. and West, Martin R., Can Information Widen Socioeconomic Gaps in Postsecondary Aspirations? How College Costs and Returns Affect Parents’ Preferences for Their Children (Last Revised September 2019). EDRE Working Paper No. 2019-17, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3471485 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3471485

Albert Cheng (Contact Author)

University of Arkansas - Department of Education Reform ( email )

201 Graduate Education Building
Fayetteville, AR 72701
United States

Michael Henderson

Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge ( email )

Baton Rouge, LA 70803
United States

Paul E. Peterson

Harvard University - Department of Government (FAS) ( email )

1737 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-495-8312 (Phone)
617-496-4428 (Fax)

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-495-8312 (Phone)
617-496-4428 (Fax)

Martin R. West

Harvard Graduate School of Education ( email )

6 Appian Way
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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