How High Schools Explain Students' Initial Colleges and Majors

Working Paper Number: 
WP 16-09

We use statewide administrative data from Missouri to examine the role of high schools in explaining student sorting to colleges and majors at 4-year public universities. We develop a “preparation and persistence index” (PPI) for each university-by-major cell in the Missouri system that captures dimensions of selectivity and rigor and allows for a detailed investigation of sorting. Our analysis shows that students’ high schools predict the quality of the initial university, as measured by PPI, conditional on their own academic preparation, and that students from lower-SES high schools systematically enroll at lower-PPI universities. However, high schools offer little explanatory power over major placements within universities and correspondingly, there are not meaningful differences in the index-based quality of these placements by high-school SES.

JEL Codes: 
l23, l24, J24

Rajeev Darolia