Intended college attendance: Evidence from an experiment on college returns and costs

Zachary Bleemer, Basit Zafar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We conduct an information experiment about college returns and costs embedded within a representative survey of US household heads. Baseline perceptions of college costs and benefits are substantially biased, with larger biases among lower-income and non-college households. Respondents are randomly exposed to objective information about average college “returns” or costs. We find a significant impact of the “returns” experiment, persisting in a follow-up survey two months later: intended college attendance expectations increase by about 0.2 of the standard deviation in the baseline likelihood, and gaps by household income or parents’ education decline by 20–30%. We find no impact of the cost information treatment. Further analysis supports the information's salience, as opposed to information-based updating, as the main channel through which the returns intervention impacts intentions.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)184-211
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Public Economics
StatePublished - Jan 2018
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Finance
  • Economics and Econometrics


  • College enrollment
  • College returns and costs
  • Information
  • Subjective expectations

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