Highlighting Brown’s distinction in economics

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Can a student’s choice of college lift them out of poverty? John Friedman, an associate professor of economics and of international and public affairs, took on a massive statistical analysis to discern trends in access to colleges for low-income students. He and   colleagues at the Equality of Opportunity Project identified the schools that move the most low-income students up the economic ladder.

Friedman and the research team looked at 30 million students, using data that included family incomes in students’ teenage years, as well as statistics on the earnings of those graduates who have reached their early 30s. Students from divergent economic backgrounds who graduate from the same universities, he said, can achieve similar economic status later in life. With so much data, the study created a foundation for the development of policies that might increase access and mobility in a way that takes into account the specific characteristics of a place or higher education institution.

“There’s no reason to think the educational policy that works in Providence will translate to El Paso,” he said. “The great value of the data that we work with is that you can paint a picture of the world that’s much more fine-grained than it was before, allowing you to do policy work that takes heterogeneity seriously.”

Friedman — who also published a major study and “Opportunity Atlas” in October 2018 that tracks economic mobility by U.S. neighborhood — also takes seriously the accessibility of data and makes data for subsets of students at each college available online.