The Effect of Selective Public Research University Enrollment: Evidence from California

September 27, 2018

What are the benefits and costs of attending a selective public research university instead of a less-selective university or college? In his new contribution to CSHE’s ROPS series, co-published with the Institute for Research in Labor and Employment (IRLE), Zach Bleemer examines student outcomes from the 2001-2011 Eligibility in the Local Context (ELC) program, which guaranteed University of California admission to students in the top four percent of California high school classes.

Employing a regression discontinuity design, Zach shows that ELC-eligible students were pulled into four UC campuses—San Diego, Davis, Irvine, and Santa Barbara—mostly from CSU and California community colleges. ELC compliers had far lower SAT scores and family incomes than their eventual UC peers, but they became more than 20 percentage points more likely to earn a university degree within five years if they attended UC. While less-prepared students were pushed out of majoring in STEM fields at UC, the study presents evidence that their simulated and actual postgraduate wages ended up substantially higher, with the increased likelihood of graduation more than offsetting the decline in STEM major selection.

This study highlights California’s public research universities’ successes in serving disadvantaged high school students who would not have attended UC if not for its historical ELC policy. The UC Office of the President will post a related policy-focused "topic brief" on ELC shortly.