Experimental Evidence on the Effect of Childhood Investments on Postsecondary Attainment and Degree Completion

Susan Dynarski*, Joshua Hyman, Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Scopus citations


This paper examines the effect of early childhood investments on college enrollment and degree completion. We used the random assignment in Project STAR (the Tennessee Student/Teacher Achievement Ratio experiment) to estimate the effect of smaller classes in primary school on college entry, college choice, and degree completion. We improve on existing work in this area with unusually detailed data on college enrollment spells and the previously unexplored outcome of college degree completion. We found that assignment to a small class increases students' probability of attending college by 2.7 percentage points, with effects more than twice as large among black students. Among students enrolled in the poorest third of schools, the effect is 7.3 percentage points. Smaller classes increased the likelihood of earning a college degree by 1.6 percentage points and shifted students toward high-earning fields such as STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), business, and economics. We found that test-score effects at the time of the experiment were an excellent predictor of long-term improvements in postsecondary outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)692-717
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Policy Analysis and Management
Issue number4
StatePublished - Sep 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Business, Management and Accounting
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration


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