Information Barriers and Social Inequalities in Participation in Higher Education: Evidence from a Field Experiment

Saturday, 21 July 2018: 09:15
Oral Presentation
Carlo BARONE, Sciences Po, France
The presentation addresses the possible contribution of information barriers to socio-economic and gender inequalities of participation in Higher Education (HE). Relying on models of bounded rationality, we consider information barriers concerning the costs, benefits and chances of success of investments in HE, and we assess whether these barriers affect continuation to HE, the choice between university and higher vocational education, and field of study choice.

For this purpose, we ran a multi-site clustered randomized controlled trial that involved all of the senior students of 62 Italian high schools. The experimental treatment provided senior students with detailed information concerning the profitability of educational options, that is, their costs, academic selectivity and occupational prospects, with particular attention to differences between fields of study and between college and postsecondary vocational programs. We met each single class separately on three occasions for a total of six hours. Longitudinal data concerning the students’ initial college plans and final college decisions were collected among treated and control students before and after the information treatment. Our first substantive conclusion is that information barriers do not affect the choice to continue to HE in Italy, but rather the “horizontal” preference between university and vocational programs, and between different fields of study. Our second result is that these barriers affect gender inequalities more than socio-economic inequalities. In the presentation we discuss the methodological and policy implications of these results.