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We consider four distinct policy levers available to states for raising bachelor’s degree completion rates in the U.S. through their public colleges and universities. We simulate these policies using elasticities from the existing literature and a matched College Board-National Student Clearinghouse dataset on enrollment and degree completion. Increasing spending at public college and targeted elimination of tuition and fees at four-year public colleges with an income cutoff are projected to be the most effective of these policies in terms of cost per additional BA degree. Reducing tuition and fees at public colleges and a distinct policy of moving students to the best available in-state public college (BISPO) are next best on a cost-benefit basis. Free community college policies are significantly less cost effective. While reducing community college tuition and fees to zero does lead to more Associates degrees, some students are drawn away from the fouryear sector in the process. Low-income students see the smallest gains from free community college policies since these students already face very low net prices of attendance.


Avery, Christopher , Howell, Jessica , Pender, Matea , Sacerdote, Bruce. "Policies and Payoffs to Addressing America's College Graduation Deficit." Brookings Papers on Economic Activity (July 2019): 1-45.