Place Distant Place


Recruitment strategies and representation at public research universities

Public research universities have long been understood as engines of meritocratic social mobility. Relative to other higher ed institutions, public universities remain those with the highest mobility rates. But research over the past decade has shown that these institutions are failing to represent the diversity of their state populations, and adopting financial aid models that cater to the wealthy.

A new report co-authored by CRYSTAL HAN, OZAN JAQUETTE, and KARINA SALAZAR looks at one mechanism behind this trend. Analyzing off-campus recruitment events, it finds that public research universities prioritize recruiting out-of-state students from wealthy, white, urban communities over all others:

“In contrast to rhetoric from university leaders, our findings suggest strong socioeconomic and racial biases in the enrollment priorities of many public research universities. A small number of universities exhibit recruiting patterns broadly consistent with the historical mission of social mobility for meritorious state residents. However, most universities concentrated recruiting visits in wealthy, out-of-state communities while also privileging affluent schools in in-state visits. Although most universities did not exhibit racial bias in in state visits, out-of-state visits consistently exhibited racial bias. Since most universities made many more out-of-state visits than in-state visits, overall recruiting visit patterns for most universities contribute to a student composition where low-income students of color feel increasingly isolated amongst growing cohorts of affluent, predominantly White, out-of-state students. These recruiting patterns and enrollment priorities are a function of a broken system of state higher education finance, which incentivizes universities to prioritize rich out-of-state students with lack-luster academic achievement.”

Link to the report.

  • The report includes contextual background on the “enrollment management” industry, which advises universities on strategic admissions and recruitment strategies to improve their financial and ranking standings: “While scholarship and policy debate about college access focuses on the final stages of the enrollment funnel—when applicants are admitted and financial aid ‘leveraging’ is used to convert admits to enrollees—the EM industry expends substantial resources on earlier stages of the funnel.” Link to Don Hossler and John Bean’s 1990 book on the subject.
  • Elizabeth Popp Berman discusses the results in a brief thread: “This is a function of the funding model we’ve created, in which public university behavior is driven by a toxic mixture of 1) the status economy and 2) state funding cuts… The good news is that there is variation in this behavior: not all schools are doing it to the same degree. There’s less in states with strong state support. And there’s a difference among schools with similar state support/demographics.” Link.
  • A 2006 report from Kati Haycock and Danette Gerald charts the trends in decreasing access for low income students. Link. Further work co-authored by Haycock in 2010 details the trend of public research universities offering financial aid to out of state students. Link.
  • In our newsletter last year, a spotlight on previous work by Ozan Jaquette and Bradley Curs finds that shrinking state funding leads public universities to increase their out-of-state enrollment. Link to that paper, link to the archived letter, which includes several other relevant papers.

New Researchers: STATE OF WAR

Assessing the role of conflict in state formation

Prominent theories on the emergence of bureaucratic states hold that rulers develop and optimize centralized fiscal infrastructures in order to strengthen their capacity for war-making. (Classic works by Max Weber, Charles Tilly, and Mancur Olson advance this theory through a historical analysis of European nation-sates.) In her job market paper, Y. JOY CHEN uses original evidence on elite interests, patterns of war, and state-building efforts in pre-imperial China to argue that war in fact hindered state-building, as rulers relegated control of threatened territories to regional leaders. Chen’s alternative explanation centers around human capital formation: newly literate consumers were cheaper to appoint as administrators, and therefore began to supplant nobles within the bureaucracy.

The paper includes a game theoretic model of the decision-making process of a ruler facing external threats:

“The model makes the following predictions: (1) bureaucratic rule is less likely to transpire in places that face greater external threat and have lower strategic importance, because directly controlling these places brings less value to the ruler; (2) bureaucratic rule is less likely to transpire when administrators’ political connections are strong, because these individuals have higher bargaining power… Consistent with the model, I find that bureaucratic rule is more likely to transpire in border regions, and particularly in regions that face greater foreign military threat from large states and nomadic tribes. Secondly, I find that administrators of bureaucratic counties are more likely to have weak political connections. Thirdly, I find that the clan membership of administrators is uncorrelated with the exposure to trade of the region they manage.”

Link to the paper, and link to Y. Joy Chen’s website.

Each week we highlight great work from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Have you read any excellent research recently that you’d like to see shared here? Send it our way:


  • “The philosopher John Dewey called for a continued and lively conversation between social scientists and the general public, saying the shoe maker knows how to make a shoe, but it is the public who knows where the shoe pinches. Dewey did not mean that we should abandon expertise and embrace the public wisdom as a substitute. Instead, he meant that the two need to be in dialogue with each other.” Henry Farrell and Jack Knight on internal disciplinary feuds and the need for political science to engage the public. Link.
  • A new paper by Daron Acemoglu and Pascual Restrepo asks: “The Wrong Kind of AI?” Link.
  • “Notably, on both sides of the Iron Curtain, optimization was deployed in decisively non-market settings. Such was the first half-century of the subfield’s existence, in which optimization was identified with planning. The engineer would first decide what problem needed to be solved, and would then formulate an optimization program that modeled the problem exactly and solved it once and for all. In these contexts, optimization theory was among the least market-oriented of liberal sciences.” Jimmy Wu on the politics of optimization. Link.
  • “Retirement wealth is highly unequally distributed; the top lifetime earnings quintile holds half of all retirement wealth, the bottom quintile, only 1 percent.” By Teresa Ghilarducci, Siavash Radpour, and Anthony Webb of the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis. Link.
  • A new report by Ratna Sinroja, Sarah Thomason, and Ken Jacobs of the UC Berkeley Labor Center examines the consequences of misclassifying workers as independent contractors—a practice used to reduce labor costs by allowing employers to avoid payroll taxes and payments for unemployment and workers compensation. The report focuses primarily on the detriments of misclassification for workers, but also notes that “misclassification is a significant drain on government resources, with the state losing an estimated $3,000 in annual tax revenues for every worker that is misclassified.” Link.
  • David Berger, Kyle Herkenhoff, and Simon Mongey on the welfare implications of labor market power. Link.
  • In February, we linked to the launching of Economics for Inclusive Prosperity and their series of policy proposals. The project prompted a series of responses from academics across disciplines. Among them, Corey Robin, Alice Evans, and Ethan Bueno De Mesquita encourage the authors to push beyond economic metrics and recognize the political underpinnings of meaningful policy reform. See also EfIP’s initial and final contributions to the discussion.
  • Reboot Design, sponsored by the Hewlett Foundation, designed and facilitated a workshop on how to advance the participatory budgeting movement. Link to the subsequent report.
  • “Indonesia’s weak labor movement transformed local wage councils from institutions of wage restraint into institutions that delivered generous wage increases.” By Teri L. Caraway, Michele Ford, and Oanh K. Nguyen. Link.
  • Cass R. Sunstein reviews Pamela Herd and Donald Moynihan’s book in the NYRB: “Administrative burdens impose a high cost, and that cost often falls on those who are in the worst position to bear it.” Link.
  • “Exploitation of tenants tends to be highest in poor neighborhoods. Landlords in poor neighborhoods also extract higher profits from housing units. Property values and tax burdens are considerably lower in depressed residential areas, but rents are not.” New research by Matthew Desmond and Nathan Wilmers. Link.
  • From the USC Game Innovation Lab, and in honor of recent SCOTUS activity: “The ReDistricting Game.” Link. ht Jay
  • “In China, population growth and its uneven regional distribution not merely limited the surplus grain available for trade, but exerted severe pressure on an inherently unstable water control system pitting farming against flood prevention and the waterway transportation of goods, creating increasingly insurmountable challenges for water engineering. In combination with rigid fiscal rules, population growth constrained the ability of the Qing state to govern this vast empire effectively.… We describe an escalating ‘span of control’ problem, increasing the pressure on a small bureaucracy in the periphery as well as the core of the empire, caused by a rigid and underfunded state apparatus.” Link.

Each week we highlight research from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Send us recommendations:

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