Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Little Information Could Go A Long Way


In a new report, Filling in the Blanks: How Information Can Affect Choice in Higher Education, Andrew Kelly and Mark Schneider of the American Enterprise Institute examine the role that information can play in the college choice process. One thousand parents in five states were asked which of two similar colleges they would recommend to their high school-age child. Half of the parents were given information about the colleges’ six-year graduation rates, while half were not. The researchers found that parents who were provided information about graduation rates were fifteen percentage points more likely to recommend the college with the higher graduation rate to their child, with larger differentials for parents who reported having less information about colleges and who had lower levels of education.

The intervention shows the importance of providing salient information to the parents of high school students. However, because parents in the study were making a theoretical decision instead of an actual decision that would affect their child, they had less of an incentive to think as carefully about their choice. This might result in effects that are larger than in real life, especially where parents have evenmore information about the two colleges being compared. A logical next step would be to repeat this experiment with high school students to see if the results significantly differ. Encouraging or requiring colleges to publicize their graduation rates may lead parents and students to choose colleges at which the student is more likely to graduate, as they take this information into account. In any case, even a small effect of additional information can make this low-cost intervention sound public policy.

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