Information and College Access: Evidence from a Randomized Field Experiment

Issue/Topic: High School--College Readiness; Postsecondary Participation--Access/Outreach
Author(s): Oreopoulos, Philip; Dunn, Ryan
Organization(s): University of Toronto
Publication: National Bureau of Economic Research
Published On: 2012

High school students from low-income backgrounds generally have an incomplete understanding of actual college tuition levels, financial aid opportunities, and the admissions process. Misinformation or unawareness can lead to sub-optimal outcomes, including not enrolling in postsecondary education even when prepared. This study measures changes in student interests and expectations based on a randomized control experiment.

To examine the effects of an internet information intervention on disadvantaged students in Toronto, Canada; to use a survey instrument to test whether a short promotional video about higher education affects student interests and expectations.

  • Students gave three reasons for having low college-going interest or expectation: cost of college, poor academic achievement, and distaste for school.
  • Students exposed to the video were more likely to report lower expected earnings from stopping at high school compared to the control group. Differences in expected earnings from completing an associate or baccalaureate degree are not significantly different between treated and control participants. 
  • Students receiving the treatment were more likely to adjust their expectations about the costs and benefits of postsecondary education.
  • After the second survey, treated students who had indicated an initial expectation of completing their education at the high school level were twice as likely to request more materials about specific colleges and universities than their counterparts in the control group.

Policy Implications/Recommendations:
  • Multimedia information campaigns that promote the benefits of postsecondary education are worth considering as an inexpensive complement to intensive college and career counseling.
  • The impact of an information gap-reducing intervention will depend on students' attention to new information and interest in retaining it. When implementing an information campaign, both information consistency and repetition are important.
  • Information campaigns could serve as prompts for more authentic and intentional college-going behaviors, such as completing a college application, applying for financial aid, and making a college visit.

Research Design:
The study was carried out in Toronto at five public schools, all ranked in the bottom student achievement quartile. Teachers handed out flyers for students to participate in a survey. All participants took a survey about education aspirations, parental education, and grade performance. Half of the students received the intervention: a short video on earnings of college graduates and financial aid options. All students then took a second survey about students' college-going expectations.

The number of survey participants was 1,616.

Year data is from:


Data Collection and Analysis:
Demographic and attitudinal data from high school students enrolled in low-achieving schools. Use of a two-survey, randomized experiment to measure change in student attitudes and behaviors based on exposure to three-minute informational video.


Reference in this Web site to any specific commercial products, processes or services, or the use of any trade, firm or corporation name is for the information and convenience of the public, and does not constitute endorsement or recommendation by the Education Commission of the States. Please contact Kathy Christie at 303-299-3613 or kchristie@ecs.org for further information regarding the information posting standards and user policies of the Education Commission of the States.