Does Attending an Elite University Help Low Income Students? Evidence From the Texas Longhorn and Texas A&M Century Scholars Program

Awarded Scholars:
Scott Imberman, Michigan State University
Michael Lovenheim, Cornell University
Rodney Andrews, University of Texas, Dallas
Project Date:
Apr 2015
Award Amount:
Project Programs:
Social, Political, and Economic Inequality

Data from the Census Bureau show that the returns to a college education have increased over time and that by 2012, the gap in median annual earnings between households with a college degree and those with a high-school diploma was nearly $60,000. Despite this, increases in post-secondary attainment appear to have flat-lined, with low-income students particularly affected. That the rising college wage premiums have been met with a growing socioeconomic gap in postsecondary enrollment and attainment only heightens the importance of policy interventions that might improve educational outcomes for lower-income students. But how does one intervene in ways that would make it more likely for low-income students to enroll in and complete college, and to attend higher-quality educational institutions?

An affirmative action ban in college admission decisions was enacted in Texas in 1997. In response, the Texas 10% Rule was implemented in 1998. This rule stipulated that any student in the top 10% of his or her high school class could attend any Texas public university. After 1997, the vast majority of students admitted to Texas’ two public flagship institutions– the University of Texas at Austin (UT) and Texas A&M University (A&M)—were admitted under this rule. Despite the fact that many low-income students became eligible to attend these universities under the Top 10% rule, minority enrollments at both schools fell precipitously.

To address this decline, the Longhorn Opportunity Scholarship (LOS) program and the Century Scholars (CS) program were implemented in 1999 and 2000, respectively, with the intent of increasing the enrollment and success of low-income students at these institutions. The programs targeted low-income schools with few prior applicants to either UT or A&M. Both programs provided a suite of interventions intended to address the disadvantages faced by low-income students. Professors Scott Imberman (Michigan State), Michael Lovenheim (Cornell) and Rodney Andrews (University of Texas, Dallas) will study the effects of these interventions in achieving their intended goals, looking in particular at whether these interventions increase the likelihood that low-income students enroll at UT or A&M; whether enrolled students experience better educational outcomes, specifically in terms of such outcomes as college majors, GPA, graduation, and time to degree; and whether these translate to better overall labor market outcomes.


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