Essays in the Economics of Education

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This dissertation analyzes the effects of various inputs in the education production function on student outcomes in higher education. Using unique data from public higher education in Arkansas, this paper uses student-level analysis to understand effects interactions between students with peers and instructors on college and labor market outcomes. The first chapter analyzes the effects of college peer referrals on labor market outcomes, as well as how these effects differ by gender. Using a novel two-step research design, I first identify classroom network effects by exploiting quasi-random variation in section enrollment within courses. Results indicate taking a class with a peer increases the propensity for a student to get a job at a firm where the peer is incumbent. The overall propensity to use classmates in job finding does not differ by gender, although students display an increased propensity to form networks with same-gender peers. In the second step of the research design, I investigate the labor market effects of obtaining a job through a classmate. Consistent with the predictions of a referral-based job search model, workers who obtain jobs through classmates earn more and are less likely to leave the firm, and effects decline with tenure in the firm. Furthermore, while referrals benefit both genders, the earnings premium from referrals for women is less than half the premium for men. From a policy perspective, these findings suggest a key tradeoff between increasing efficiency through referrals and increasing gender equity. The second paper looks at the relative effects of full-time versus adjunct instructors on student outcomes in college. I focus on students in their first semester of college and employ an identification strategy that exploits within-student variation in instructor type teaching courses, as well as within-course variation of instructors teaching a given course. I find that students have a students have a lower propensity of taking another course in the subject when the course is taught by an adjunct, compared to a full-time instructor, and students with a higher proportion of adjunct instructors in their first term of college are less likely to graduate on time. Additionally, for instructors who switch statuses, moving from adjunct to full-time increases both propensity that their students will take a subsequent course in the subject, as well as the propensity of students retention to a second year of college. Taken together, these results suggest that institutional differences in the treatment of part-time vs. full-time workers contribute to differences in labor output, independent of inherent differences between part-time vs. full-time workers.






Zhu, Maria (2019). Essays in the Economics of Education. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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