Western University EconomicsWestern Social Science

The Berea Panel Study

While the importance of providing a comprehensive view of issues related to higher education has been well-recognized, in practice many important questions remain unanswered. This is due, in large part, to an absence of detailed data collected at regular intervals during post-secondary school. In response, Ralph and Todd Stinebrickner began collecting data on two cohorts of Berea College freshman (entering in 2001 and 2002) referred to as the Berea Panel Study (BPS). Unlike many other data collection initiatives, the BPS was designed with very specific research questions in mind and has been guided directly by basic economic theory. Most notably, the survey has been designed to elicit information relevant to factors that may influence post-secondary dropout decisions.

Berea College is a four-year institution that would typically be referred to as a 'university' in Canada. It is located in central Kentucky and operates with a mission of providing an education to students of limited economic resources. As part of this mission, the school provides a full tuition subsidy and large room and board subsidies to all entering students regardless of family income; however, most students come from low-income families. Consistent with the dropout rates of low- income students at other schools, approximately fifty percent of the entering students at Berea fail to graduate (with few transferring out).

The BPS baseline surveys were administered to the two cohorts immediately before they entered Berea College as freshmen (fall 2000 and 2001). The baseline survey collected background information and also took advantage of recent advances in survey methodology to collect information about students’ expectations about uncertain future events and outcomes (e.g., academic performance, labor market outcomes, non-pecuniary benefits of school, marriage and children). Substantial follow-up surveys at the beginning and end of each semester document how key factors that might influence education decisions have changed. Shorter surveys administered multiple times each year have also been used to provide information about how students use their time, with a particular focus on study effort. In all, students have been surveyed between ten and twelve times each year while in school. Students have also been interviewed annually after leaving school, with these surveys collecting a wide variety of detailed information about labor market and family outcomes. The survey data is also linked to detailed administrative data from Berea College.

Data quality and response rates have been very high. Approximately 86% of the 820 freshmen who entered Berea in 2000 and 2001 completed baseline surveys, and participation rates have remained between 80% and 90% during school years. Post- university survey efforts have also been successful; over 90% of students who left Berea without graduating have completed one or more post-school surveys, and the most recent post-university survey achieved a participation rate of over 85% among students that graduated.

Research by Ralph and Todd Stinebrickner using this survey examines a wide range of topics of interest to policymakers and academics. Many of these papers have important implications for understanding the dropout decision; however, a number of other issues have been examined as well. Research using the BPS is now turning more towards understanding outcomes in the early stages after post-secondary school.

Research using data from the Berea Panel Study

Stinebrickner, Todd, and Ralph Stinebrickner. "Learning about Academic Ability and the College Drop-Out Decision," Working Paper.

Camargo, Braz, Ralph Stinebrickner, and Todd Stinebrickner. "Interracial Friendships," forthcoming, The Journal of Labor Economics.

Stinebrickner, Ralph, and Todd Stinebrickner. "The Effect of Credit Constraints on the College Drop-Out Decision: A Direct Approach Using a New Panel Study," American Economic Review, December (2008).

Stinebrickner, Ralph, and Todd Stinebrickner. "The Causal Effect of Studying on Academic Performance," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis and Policy: Frontiers. Vol. 8 (2008): Iss.1 (Frontiers), Article 14. Recipient of the Arrow Prize in Economic Analysis and Policy.

Stinebrickner, Ralph, and Todd Stinebrickner. "What Can Be Learned About Peer Effects Using College Roommates? Evidence From New Survey Data and Students From Disadvantaged Backgrounds," Journal of Public Economics, 90 (8-9) September 2006, 1435-1454.

Stinebrickner, Ralph, and Todd Stinebrickner. "Time-Use and College Outcomes," Journal of Econometrics, 121 (1-2) July-August 2004, 243-269.

Stinebrickner, Ralph, and Todd Stinebrickner. "Understanding Educational Outcomes of Students from Low-Income Families: Evidence from a Liberal Arts College with a Full Tuition Subsidy Program," Journal of Human Resources, 38(3) Summer 2003, 591-617.

Stinebrickner, Ralph, and Todd Stinebrickner. "Working During School and Academic Performance," Journal of Labor Economics, 21(2) April 2003, 473-491.