Economic research


Research areas


The price of college

People who grow up poor, regardless of test scores and grades, are still less likely to graduate from college than their richer peers. Gaps in college completion have widened at the same time the price of college has skyrocketed. One arrow in the policy quiver is need-based financial aid for college students. My work has added a few unique contributions to the large literature on financial aid.

My working paper with Sara Goldrick-Rab examines a program with the same qualifications as the federal Pell Grant, but is randomly assigned to a group of two-year college students in Wisconsin. 

Designers of financial aid programs often cannot change their overall budgets. What they can change is how they allocate the resources they're given. These allocation decisions can benefit from research evidence that goes beyond estimating average effects to finding which types of students financial helps most. I provide new evidence on this question in studies of the Wisconsin Grant and the Illinois MAP grant.

Making college more affordable can impact more than just graduation rates, but without data it's difficult to study where students live, work, and start families after college. A pilot program is helping to link local data sets to the Census Bureau data infrastructure, broadening what we can learn about college students in the economy.

I'm working on a series of infographics showing trends in FAFSA filing over the past decade. Stay tuned!

Financial education and decision making

There is an ongoing debate about whether people are generally well informed when making financial decisions (often they are not), and whether financial education can help inform them (only if cleverly delivered and well-targeted).

My working paper with J. Michael Collins and Sara Goldrick-Rab reports the results of a field experiment testing different methods of informing student loan borrowers, at a for-profit online university.

My working paper with J. Michael Collins evaluates a workplace financial education effort to increase women's retirement savings. 

For high school students considering college, their parents' income is the most important determinant of financial aid they can qualify for. My working paper with Janet K. Holt checks high school students' knowledge of their parents' income, by comparing students' survey responses to information from tax returns. 

Quantitative methodS

Coming soon! Paper, software, and a new method for assessing the generalizability of results from regression discontinuity designs, with Beth Tipton.

PUBlic Finance

As a public economist, I study markets where the government and non-profits play a large role, like education and healthcare. I'm also interested in how people respond to government policies regarding benefits and taxation.

My study of private college endowment funds making tough decisions after the financial crisis is forthcoming in Education Finance and Policy.

Financial aid for college, much like other social benefits based on income, creates implicit taxes. If you earn more, you qualify for less aid. This can create a disincentive to work, which is especially pronounced at "kink points" where implicit tax rates increase. I am studying responses to these kink points with Patricia K. Tong. 

The Colbert Report announced: "Social Security checks are going paperless. 'Cause if there's one thing seniors are good at, it's online banking!" With coauthor J. Michael Collins, I looked into the possible effects of this change. The paper is forthcoming in the Journal of Consumer Affairs

The United States outlaws payments for organ donations, but there is a kind of market for live kidney donations nonetheless, a market where the price paid by patients is the wait time for a kidney from a deceased donor. People considering giving kidneys are sensitive to this price too, because the patients paying the price are their friends and loved ones. Using state laws as an instrument for the supply of deceased donor kidneys, I find that living donations of kidneys are responsive to price.