Date of Award

Spring 2019

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Department

Moore School of Business

First Advisor

Orgul Ozturk

Abstract

I examine, separately, the impact of three education programs on student achievement, using difference-in-differences and difference-in-difference-in-differences designs. First, I examine whether spillover benefits on achievement exist from preschool. I estimate the effect of exposure to a South Carolina preschool program that targets disadvantaged four-year-olds on students’ test scores in grades 3 through 5, where exposure means residing in a school district once the program was made available and disadvantaged students are those eligible for free or reduced-price lunch or Medicaid. I find that exposure to the preschool program not only increases the math and reading scores of targeted students, but also has positive effects on the math and reading scores of non-targeted students, those not able to participate in the program. Additional analysis suggests that these spillover effects may stem, in whole or in part, from improvements to classroom decorum via fewer behavioral disruptions. Second, my coauthors and I analyze the effect of Community Eligibility Provision, a universal free-lunch program, on middle and elementary school students’ academic performance and attendance in the state of South Carolina. We show that this program leads to about 0.06 of a standard deviation increase in math test scores for elementary school students. We find smaller, but statistically insignificant effects on reading scores. We find no significant effect on middle school students’ test scores. The effects are most substantial for students that were previously eligible for free lunches, but not on other public assistance programs. We also find a larger effect on math scores in rural areas than in urban areas. Third, I examine whether financial aid impacts achievement differently for low- and high-income students. I find that student aid increases the GPAs and graduation prospects of low-income students but has little impact on high- income students. Additional analysis suggests that reduction in student part-time work among low-income students may be a potential mechanism for the heterogeneous achievement effects of grant aid by income. These results suggest that merit aid programs could be targeted more effectively than most currently are. Together, the studies demonstrate the effectiveness of education programs in influencing human capital accumulation and reducing socioeconomic disparities.

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