Access to higher education is a key determinant of lifetime earnings in the United States. Since the 1960s, selective public universities have admitted students mostly on the basis of standardized test scores and other measures of academic preparation, on the theory that highly prepared students can best take advantage of universities’ rigorous curricula. I employ quasi-experimental and structural research designs to investigate the efficiency and economic mobility ramifications of these “meritocratic” admissions policies. This dissertation presents a collage of evidence from three educational allocation policies suggesting that the reallocation of selective higher education to disadvantaged students with relatively poorer measured academic preparation can promote both economic mobility and allocative efficiency, with those students’ net education and wage gains exceeding their crowded-out peers’ net losses. These efficiency findings undermine the primary justification for the 1960s implementation of meritocratic admissions policies at public institutions.
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