In recent years, many states in the U.S., including California, Texas, and Oregon, have changed admissions policies to increase access to public universities for students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. However, it is not clear how these students will perform, which is an important concern. A new IZA Discussion Paper by Sandra Black, Jane Arnold Lincove, Jenna Cullinane, and Rachel Veron examines the relationship between high school quality and student success at college. Using newly available administrative data from the University of Texas at Austin, the authors take advantage of a unique law introduced in 1997, which grants automatic admission to UT Austin to all students who graduate from a Texas public high school ranked in the top 10% of their class. The law implies that, regardless of school quality, the best students from each high school in Texas can enroll at the state’s flagship university, which increased the diversity of high schools in the state that send students to the university.
Exploiting this law, the authors find that high school characteristics positively affect student performance: high school variables measuring campus socioeconomic status, academic preparation for college, and school resources have a positive effect on college performance, as measured by freshman year GPA. Importantly, the authors show that these effects persist over time spent in college, with continued significant effects of high school characteristics on student GPAs in sophomore and junior years. Moreover, they show that the effect of high school quality on college performance seems more pronounced for women and low-income students.