Selected ongoing projects
Revisiting the Mismatch Hypothesis: Mismatch Pathways and College Graduation (with Sigal Alon)
This study uses unique longitudinal administrative data on all applicants, students and graduates of four leading universities in Israel in order to assess whether and how application behavior is associated with student retention outcomes in college. We argue that the first encounter of students with the academic system—the application stage— carry important downstream effects on students’ retention. Specifically, the extent of risk young adults take in their college application structure their likelihood to be admitted to their first choice, their match with their classmates, and even influence their freshman year grades—all of which are important for student retention and graduation. Our results confirm that risk at application is an important predictor of students’ retention, though in not obvious ways: net of socioeconomic factors and academic preparation, risk averse applicants are the least likely to persist in the first field of enrollment, and obtain a BA in any field.
The STEM Momentum: STEM Courses during the First Year of College and Gender Differences in STEM BA Attainment (with Oded Mcdossi)
Women today receive over half of all bachelor’s degrees in the US, but only a small share of degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. Recent investigations of these disparities suggest that a substantial portion of the gap emerge within college, with higher attrition rates of STEM-aspiring women from STEM fields. We argue that part of these disparities may be rooted in gender differences in the curricular momentum of students during their first year. We evaluate this argument with detailed transcript information on a large, nationally representative sample of high school students who attended four-year colleges in the mid-2000s and assess whether and how the composition of courses STEM-aspiring men and women take during the first year of college impacts gender disparities in the attainment of STEM degree. Results confirm that STEM-aspiring men and women have significantly different course composition during their first year, with men taking higher share of their courses in STEM. These disparities, in turn, structure their likelihood of obtaining a degree in STEM, even net of prior academic achievements, socioeconomic background, attitudes and college characteristics. Furthermore, we find significant gender disparities in the returns to STEM momentum among students who aspire for STEM occupation, but not among those who do not aspire for STEM education.
"The Stratifying Implications of Ethnic Disparities in College Mismatch" (with Sigal Alon)
This study examines the choice of college field of study (FOS) – a complex decision and key determinant of both intra- and intergenerational mobility, and one of the factors perpetuating inequality. We assess the decision making process through the lens of a collective logic framework we develop, moving the discussion on the topic from one centered on individual atoms to one viewing decision makers as embedded in social networks. Using the unique dataset of Israeli college applicants’ revealed choices, we test this framework regarding between-group differences in the choice of college FOS. We find that the decision-making process is based not only on intrapersonal deliberations but also on interpersonal discourse, i.e. the structure of opportunity, social networks, and social contagion. As the social structure reinforces collective logic among individuals, it also generates systematic between-group differences in preferences. Moreover, while this collective logic may represent perfectly sound reasoning, it can lead to suboptimal outcomes, and thus shape life trajectories and perpetuate inequalities. The discussion highlights the theoretical contributions of this framework to both decision-making and stratification theories, as well as the lessons that can be drawn from the findings for designing policy interventions.
"College for All, but Not with All: Educational Expansion and Socioeconomic Disparities in Campus Social Context"
Higher education has responded to the growing demand for postsecondary education over the past few decades with a dramatic expansion of open admission institutions. Changes in the supply of slots at open admission colleges can alter the characteristics of the population of students entering higher education, and extend opportunities to disadvantaged students. But unequal expansion of open admission colleges can also impact the distribution of students across college types, and, consequently, the social environment they encounter while in college. Using data from two nationally representative cohorts of high school students in the 1990s and the 2000s (NELS and ELS), and information on college campuses compiled by the US Department of Education, this study sets out to examine whether and how changes in the availability of slots in higher education in general, and open admission colleges in particular, impact the social environment students encounter while in college, measured here by the average income of students on college campus. Results show that low-income students in the later cohort were more likely to access higher education, especially two-year colleges. However, they were also more likely than their counterparts in the 1990s to enroll in colleges characterized by significantly lower average family income. Thus, students in younger cohorts may have fewer opportunities to engage with students from different social backgrounds while in college. These results, which hold even when social and compositional changes are accounted for, underscore the importance of macro-level organizational processes in higher education to micro-level behaviors and circumstances.