The Power of Certainty: Experimental Evidence on the Effective Design of Free Tuition Programs
- American Economic Review: Insights (Forthcoming)
Proposed “free college” policies vary widely in design. The simplest set tuition to zero for everyone.
More targeted approaches limit free tuition to those who demonstrate need through an application process.
We experimentally test the effects of these two models on the schooling decisions of low-income students.
An unconditional free tuition offer from a large public university substantially increases application and
enrollment rates. A free tuition offer contingent on proof of need has a much smaller effect on application
and none on enrollment. These results are consistent with students placing a high value on financial certainty
when making schooling decisions.
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