Are some degrees worth more than others? Evidence from college admission cutoffs in Chile

Justine S. Hastings (Brown University)
Christopher A. Neilson (Yale University)
Seth D. Zimmerman (Yale University)

We use administrative data from Chile from 1985 through 2011 to estimate the returns to postsecondary admission as a function of field of study, course requirements, selectivity, and student socioeconomic status. Our data link high school and college records to labor market earnings from federal tax forms. We exploit hundreds of regression discontinuities from the centralized, score-based admissions system to estimate the causal impacts of interest. Returns are positive and significant only among more-selective degrees. Returns are highly heterogeneous by field of study, with large returns in health, law and social science, as well as selective technology and business degrees. We find small to negative returns in arts, humanities and education degrees. We do not find evidence that vocational curriculum focus increases returns for less selective degrees. We do not find differential outcomes for students coming from low- versus high-socioeconomic backgrounds admitted to selective degrees.




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