Is it worthwhile paying special attention to high school students from disadvantaged social backgrounds? Núria Rodríguez-Planas put this question to a test by looking at the longer-term impacts of mentoring, educational services, and learning incentives on US high school graduation and post-secondary education enrollment among low-performing high school students. Her answer: “It depends.” The study, published in the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, shows that while interventions were successful in the short term, the educational results were modest. Moreover, there were no significant effects on employment outcomes – and detrimental effects on engagement in risky behaviors in the long run.
In a complementary IZA Discussion Paper, Rodríguez-Planas unravels some of the mechanisms at play. She finds that interventions were extremely successful among youth with a high risk of drug use as they managed to curb risky behaviors: the high school graduation rate increased by 14 percent and college enrollment by 21 percent. In contrast, the program was unsuccessful among youth with a low risk of drug use as it increased their engagement in risky behaviors (especially while in high school) and had no impact on educational outcomes. The findings suggest that these negative impacts are driven by peer effects.