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Census Tracts, Racial Separation, and the Landscape of Higher Education

Aaron Scholl, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This dissertation centers on research at the intersection of labor, public, and urban economics. Chapter 1 details the role, process, and history of census tract delineation prior to each Decennial Census, and investigates short- and long-run implications of neighborhoods that receive further delineation, or become “split”. Using a difference-in-differences empirical design, I exploit Decennial Censuses from 1980 to 2010 to find that “split” census tracts increase in their proportion of Black residents and these effects persist decades. Further evidence suggests that the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program may play a role in concentrating residents in areas with greater census tract delineation. These results suggest that census tract delineation may play an important role in shaping neighborhood dynamics. Chapter 2 focuses on the role urban racial inequality has in contributing to economic inequality for Black residents. Using variation in census tract boundaries to measure levels of urban racial separation, I find that tract-induced racial separation negatively impacts Black individuals across both income and skill distributions. Contributing factors include fewer local job opportunities in predominantly Black neighborhoods, and increased commuting costs for those with jobs. Further evidence suggests these increases in separation, in already predominantly Black neighborhoods, reduce economic and geographic mobilities into adulthood. These results have important implications for fostering equal economic opportunity in areas of high racial separation. Chapter 3 documents the changing landscape of enrollment and graduation in higher education during the rapid expansion of the for-profit sector in the 2000s. I construct a measure of institutional quality and show that institutions of the lowest quality, primarily for-profit institutions, experienced the largest increases in enrollment as well as large decreases in graduation rates. Decomposing these changes in the lowest quality institutions suggests that aggregate graduation rates decreased primarily as a result of the changing enrollment landscape across higher education, while growth in aggregate rates of the highest quality institutions comes from within institution changes. These results suggest that as enrollment in higher education expands, schools become more selective in who they enroll, and may have consequences for students attending lower quality institutions.

Subject Area

Economics|Labor economics|Economic theory|Higher education|Demography

Recommended Citation

Scholl, Aaron, "Census Tracts, Racial Separation, and the Landscape of Higher Education" (2021). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI28489803.