Can Information Widen Socioeconomic Gaps in Postsecondary Aspirations? How College Costs and Returns Affect Parents’ Preferences for their Children

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Annenberg Institute at Brown University


To estimate whether information can close socioeconomic gaps in parents’ aspirations for their child’s postsecondary education, they administer a four-armed survey experiment to a nationally representative sample of U.S. parents. After respondents estimate costs of and returns to further education, they ask whether they prefer that their child pursue a four-year degree, a two-year degree, or no further education. Before this question is posed, the treated are first told (1) the net annual costs of pursuing a four-year and two-year degree in their state, (2) the annual returns to four-year and two-year degrees as compared to no further education in their local area, or (3) both costs and returns. They find that information lowers aspirations overall and widens socioeconomic aspiration gaps. These effects do not vary with the magnitude of error between estimated and actual costs and returns. However, they find positive impacts on aspirations among parents who think their child is academically prepared for college.



human capital, academic achievement, student financial aid