Essays on college enrollment: Integrating approaches from economics, sociology, and health sciences
In this dissertation, I use an interdisciplinary approach and several empirical and conceptual frameworks to examine the importance of social influences and mental illness during high school on the decisions of individuals to attend college. Following an introductory chapter, the second and third chapters contribute both empirical and theoretical frameworks to the study of how an adolescent's social environment influences his or her college enrollment decision. The second chapter uses a social interactions framework to examine the importance of peer college decisions on individual college enrollment outcomes. I address several of the empirical difficulties in examining social influences in economic decisions and find robust evidence of social interactions. Following the evidence of the importance of social influences on college enrollment decisions in chapter two, the third chapter represents a first attempt in the literature to empirically access a new model of education decisions---the "identity" model. This model assumes that adolescents make decisions based on social considerations such as popularity and "fitting in" with peers in making their education decisions. The results from estimating the model suggest that policies that change the culture of high schools could represent an effective direction for education policies that seek to reduce racial gaps in college enrollment. The fourth chapter moves beyond social influences in college decisions to examine the importance of mental illness, specifically depression, in explaining education attainment of adolescents. I find that although depressed males and minority students are less likely to seek treatment or diagnosis for depression, the effects of this mental illness on educational outcomes is confined to females and is important in magnitude. The results in the fourth chapter suggest that school-based programs to diagnose depression may be helpful and that further research exploring the reasons for the effects of depression on female educational outcomes are needed. A final chapter summarizes the results of the three substantive chapters and discusses some policy implications of the empirical results.
0510: Labor economics
0347: Mental health