Socioeconomic gaps in college enrollment and attainment have widened over time, despite increasing returns to postsecondary education and significant policy efforts to improve access. In this NBER working paper, the authors describe the barriers that students face during the transition to college and review the evidence on potential policy solutions. They focus primarily on research that examines causal relationships using experimental or quasi-experimental methods, though they draw upon descriptive evidence to provide context.
This review is distinctive in three respects. First, in addition to the literature on financial aid, the authors examine the evidence on informational and behavioral interventions, academic programs, and affirmative action policies intended to improve college access. Second, they incorporate a wealth of recent research not included in prior reviews. Finally, they conceptualize college access broadly, as including not just whether but also where students attend and whether they have access to college-level courses. The paper concludes with a discussion of implications for policy and research.
This paper is published in the Economics of Education Review, vol. 51.