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Does Failing a Placement Exam Discourage Underprepared Students from Going to College?

October 2011

Paco Martorell, RAND, Isaac McFarlin Jr., University of Michigan, and Yu Xue, University of Texas - Dallas

Download 'working_paper11-14.pdf'.


About one-third of college students are required to take remedial courses to redress the lack of preparation for college-level coursework. Assignment to remediation is generally made on the basis of a placement test score, and in some states students are required to take a placement test prior to enrolling in college-level courses. In this type of setting, assignment to remediation may have the unintended effect of dissuading students from actually going to college. This is because remedial courses typically do not count towards a college degree, so remediation increases the cost of college by increasing the time required to complete a degree. Furthermore, being identified as in need of remediation could directly affect enrollment rates via stigma effects or by providing students with information about their unsuitability for college. This paper examines this issue empirically using administrative data from the state of Texas. Using regression discontinuity methods, we find that students whose placement exam scores would require them to be in remediation are no less likely to enroll in college than are those scoring just above the remediation placement cutoff.

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