How Does Access to College Affect Long-Term Life Outcomes? Evidence from U.S. Openings of Two-Year Public Colleges

Kevin Connolly, University of Chicago

More than eight hundred two-year public colleges opened in the United States between 1920 and 1980, creating major differences in access to college by location and date of birth for otherwise similar people. Using the variation arising from these college openings, I estimate the causal effect of greater access to college on economic, social, and health outcomes using linked Census and Social Security Administration data. The college openings led to about one-tenth of a year of additional college attainment on average for nearby college-age men and women. The openings resulted in `democratization' and not `diversion'—that is, to a higher probability of completing four years of college. Moreover, I find that the junior college openings (i.e., the openings between 1920 and 1940) had a positive causal effect on one’s likelihood of working as a professional, of having a college-educated spouse, and of delaying family formation. The postwar community college openings led to a 1.0 percentage-point increase in one’s likelihood of living past age 65.

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 Presented in Session 170. The role of city structure, college access, immigration, and ethnic identity on life outcomes in the U.S.