University access has greatly expanded during past decades and further growth figures prominently in political agendas. We study possible consequences of historical and future expansions in a stochastic, equilibrium Roy model where intelligence and disadvantage from socioeconomic and psychological factors are the relevant traits that determine higher education attainment. The enlargement of university access enacted in the UK following the 1963 Robbins Report provides an ideal case study to draw lessons for the future. We find that this expansion is associated with a decline of the average intelligence of graduates and of the college wage premium across cohorts, and that it mainly benefited more advantaged students. Our structural estimates suggest that the implemented policy was no less important than technology in explaining these facts and was unfit to reach high-ability individuals as Robbins had instead advocated. Attaining that goal in the future requires an appropriate meritocratic selection of university students. We show that this counterfactual policy is also egalitarian.
Joint work with Andrea Ichino and Giulio Zanella
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