Research Fields

Labor Economics, Economics of Education.

Published Articles

“The signal quality of grades across academic fields.”  Journal of Applied Econometrics, 34(4) (June/July, 2019): 566-587. (Working paper version)

“The effects of Greek affiliation on academic performance,” with Andrew De Donato.  Economics of Education Review, 57 (April, 2017): 41-51. (Working paper version)

Working Papers

“What do course offerings imply about university preferences?” Revise and Resubmit at Journal of Labor Economics.

University decisions can have lasting effects on students in the labor market; however, little is known about how these decisions are made. This paper develops a new framework for empirically analyzing course offerings at a sample university. The framework is based on the idea that course offerings directly affect student utilities and the probabilities that students choose courses in a given field. As such, administrators deciding which courses to offer are always implicitly trading off the number of students choosing courses in each field and total student utility. By measuring the marginal effects of offering additional sections of courses in each field on field enrollments and student utility, one can quantify these implicit tradeoffs between student utility and field enrollments.  In my empirical application, I find that a marginal dollar of spending on social science course sections produces 2.5 times as much student utility as a marginal dollar of spending on business or occupational course sections at a sample university.  From this, I conclude the university is implicitly sacrificing student utility to draw students out of social science courses and into business or occupational courses.  If this is intentional, then the university has a preference for business and occupational enrollment which may affect how their course offerings respond to changes in policies or student composition.  Counterfactual analyses show that ignoring these responses can lead to understating the effects of changes in student composition on field enrollments by a factor of three.

“Equilibrium Grade Inflation with Implications for Female Interest in STEM Majors,” (with Thomas Ahn, Peter Arcidiacono, and Amy Hopson).  Revise and Resubmit at Econometrica.

Substantial earnings differences exist across majors with the majors that pay well also having lower grades and higher workloads. We show that the harsher grading policies in STEM courses disproportionately affect women. To show this, we estimate a model of student demand courses and optimal effort choices of students conditional on the chosen courses. Instructor grading policies are treated as equilibrium objects that in part depend on student demand for courses. Restrictions on grading policies that equalize average grades across classes helps to close the STEM gender gap as well as increasing overall enrollment in STEM classes.

“Improving the Signal Quality of Grades,” (with Adam Chilton, Peter Joy, and Kyle Rozema)

We investigate how improving the signal quality of grades could enhance the matching of students to selective opportunities that are awarded early in academic programs. To do so, we develop methods to measure the signal quality of grades and to estimate the impact of changes to university policies on the identification of exceptional students for these opportunities. We focus on law schools, a setting where students are awarded important academic and professional opportunities after just one year of a three-year program. Using transcript data from one top law school over a 40-year period, we document large gains in identifying exceptional students if reasonable changes were made to certain personnel, course, and grading policies. Our findings provide motivation and a blueprint for how universities could leverage their internal records to ensure that fewer exceptional students miss out on selective opportunities.