Supporting Students’ College Pathways and College Completion
Lena Shi

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



Harvard University

Primary Discipline

Earning a college degree is increasingly important, but college quality varies substantially. My dissertation focuses on identifying and developing strategies that policymakers and colleges can implement in admissions and classrooms to improve student outcomes. The first chapter evaluates the impact of transparent transfer admissions standards on community college graduates’ transfer and completion rates using triple-differences and regression discontinuity designs. Leveraging variation in the timing and eligibility from a recent Virginia admissions policy, I find that reducing uncertainty about a college acceptance increases high-GPA students’ transfer rates to more selective flagships, raises the probability of earning a bachelor’s degree, and decreases student debt. Follow-up work will identify the role of clear admissions information relative to other factors that influence transfer choices. In chapter two, I estimate the effect of having more effective faculty, which students commonly identify as the most important factor for their learning and growth in higher education, on students’ course and college outcomes. This paper begins by estimating faculty quality in developmental education and first-year courses, and then identifies the training and employment characteristics associated with faculty effectiveness. For my final chapter, we design and randomly offer Virginia college instructors an implicit bias training program that raises faculty’s awareness about widening gaps in student performance and offers evidence-based strategies for preventing biased behavior in teaching, grading, and communications. We evaluate this program’s effects on faculty behavior, student perceptions of faculty, and student academic progress.
About Lena Shi
Lena Shi is a doctoral candidate in Education Policy and Program Evaluation at Harvard University. Her research focuses on identifying contributors to and solutions for higher education inequality. Lena’s work primarily relies on quasi-experimental approaches and randomized control trials in partnership with colleges and governments. Before starting her Ph.D., Lena worked as a Presidential Management Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education and Policy Advisor at the White House, where she helped coordinate the design and implementation of higher education policies including the College Scorecard, free community college, the earlier FAFSA, and student debt repayment plans. Lena graduated from the University of Virginia with an M.P.P. and B.A. in Global Development Studies.

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