Affirmative Action in College Education
Sebastian Otero

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



Stanford University

Primary Discipline

This paper empirically studies the distributional consequences of affirmative action in selective college education in the context of a centralized admission system. We examine the effects of a law passed in Brazil in 2012, mandating all federal public universities to increase the number of seats reserved for public high-school students to half of the total. We find that after the policy was put in place, the student body composition of public institutions became more similar to that of the applicant pool. We show that the proportion of admits to public institutions from private high schools dropped from 55% in 2011 to 35% in 2016. This is closer to the 20% share of overall high-school graduates that private school graduates represent. To study the overall distributional consequences of the policy, we leverage the rules from the centralized admission system and simulate a counterfactual allocation of spots in a regime without affirmative action. Our research design exploits admission cutoffs for heavily over-subscribed degrees to estimate the policy effects on the marginally benefited and marginally displaced students. We leverage random variation in university entrance exam scores to evaluate the implications for individuals away from the discontinuities.
About Sebastian Otero
Sebastián Otero is a Ph.D. candidate in Economics at Stanford University. His research focuses on labor economics, with a particular emphasis on education policy in Latin America. His research exploits ties with governments and local education agencies to leverage their data to design and implement practical, scalable policies with the potential to be translated into other contexts. He also combines the use of administrative data with program evaluation tools together with structural modeling to estimate the impacts of these and other on-going policies. In his dissertation, Sebastián explores the consequences of a large-scale affirmative action policy in federal universities in Brazil. In other work, he studies how a large expansion of public schools impacted private schools in the Dominican Republic. He has also done research in Chile, where he analyzed the impacts of a national food labeling policy on the demand and supply of healthier food. Before entering the Ph.D. program, Sebastián worked as a Research Associate for J-PAL LAC. Originally from Chile, Sebastián holds a B.A. and M.A. in Economics from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile.

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