Do students respond to sticker prices or actual prices when applying to college? These costs differ for students eligible for financial aid. Students who do not understand this may not apply to some colleges because of the perceived high cost. We test for this form of “sticker shock” using College Board data on SAT scores sent, as a proxy for applications, to leading public institutions for students entering college in 2006–2013. Some of these institutions guarantee financial aid will meet full financial need. Sticker price increases at those schools would not affect the actual cost after factoring in financial aid and should not affect decisions for those eligible for aid. We exploit the large and variable increases in sticker prices during the Great Recession of 2008 financial crisis. We also control for local labor market conditions to abstract from the recession's impact on individual educational decisions. We find evidence of sticker shock — students unaffected by virtue of institutional aid policies still apply less often. Using data from the National Student Clearinghouse, we also find that price increases at public flagship institutions reduce enrollment of high-achieving students, regardless of financial aid status, who often choose private colleges instead.

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