Abstract

This paper investigates the effect of high school graduation requirements on arrest rates with a specific focus on the number of required courses and the use of exit exams. Identifying variation comes from state-by-cohort changes in the laws governing high school graduation requirements from 1980 to 2010. Combining these law changes with arrest rates of young adults from the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Reports, I find that the use of exit exams can reduce arrest rates by approximately 7 percent. Although it is difficult to parse out the exact mechanisms, additional exploration into heterogeneity by age and offense, as well as examination of labor market outcomes, suggest that these policies may have increased learning. Given the current debate around the use of exit exams, this paper provides evidence of beneficial effects on nonacademic outcomes. This paper also provides further evidence of the influence of education policy on crime.

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