Closing the Gap: The Effect of Reducing Complexity and Uncertainty in College Pricing on the Choices of Low-Income Students

Presenter(s) Type Length Chair
Susan Dynarski Keynote Address
16:30
90
mins
Charles Nolan

High-achieving, low-income students attend selective colleges at far lower rates than upper-income students with similar achievement. Behavioral biases, intensified by complexity and uncertainty in the admissions and aid process, may explain this gap. In a large-scale experiment we test an early commitment of free tuition at a flagship university. The intervention did not increase aid: rather, students were guaranteed before application the same grant aid that they would qualify for in expectation if admitted. The offer substantially increased application (68 percent vs 26 percent) and enrollment rates (27 percent vs 12 percent). The results suggest that uncertainty, present bias, and loss aversion loom large in students’ college decisions.