Upper Secondary Education: Access, Choices and Graduation

Abstract: Essay I: We study how Swedish high school students match with programs given their skill endowments at the time of choosing. Using detailed administrative data on high school admissions and earlier school achievement, we construct a multidimensional measure of program match quality, reflecting the extent to which students select into programs with skill requirements that align with their skill portfolio. Our results suggest that female students and those from low socioeconomic backgrounds make relatively worse program choices than males and students whose parents have at least some college education. Students with a more appropriate skill set for a given program are more likely to remain in the program, to complete high school on time and they also have higher post-graduation earnings. Better information about how students’ relative strengths and weaknesses comply with the skill requirements of programs could prevent costly educational, and consequently occupational mismatch.Essay II: The paper provides the first causal evidence of how access to education affects disability insurance (DI) claims among low-skilled youths. The research design exploits recent changes in high school eligibility criteria among a set of low-performing compulsory school graduates in Sweden. The results show that the immediate inflow into the DI system increased by 5.1 percentage points among the students who were excluded from standard high school programs. The fact that outflow from DI is very low (half of all young claimants remain in the system after 10 years) together with auxiliary findings indicating that the impact remains high during the short follow-up period suggest that the effect is likely to persist over many years. The results highlight that the design of education systems is a crucial determinant of DI claims among young people and that reforms which limit low-skilled youths’ access to education can have lasting detrimental effects on their labor supply.Essay III: This paper studies the impact of stricter graduation requirements on vocational high school graduates’ behavioral responses and early career outcomes exploiting an increase in graduation standards in Swedish vocational high schools. An important feature of the reform is that it increased both general and occupation-specific graduation requirements. Using a unique combination of course-specific grades and detailed administrative data on labor market, I study the incentive effects, and compare job finding rates and job match quality of academically similar students just below and above the two different graduation thresholds using difference-in-differences design. I find no impact of higher general skill requirements on youths’ school-to-work transition. Stricter specific skill requirements, on the other hand, come with strong incentive effects, and lead to a separation in job finding rates and job match quality of students at the margin of barely meeting the threshold.