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Judith Scott-Clayton

Professional Background

Educational Background

Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Ph.D. in Public Policy (2009)
Wellesley College, B.A. in Sociology, summa cum laude (2000)

Scholarly Interests

Judith Scott-Clayton is an Assistant Professor of Economics and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, where she teaches courses on labor economics and quantitative methods for causal inference.  She is also a Senior Research Associate at the Community College Research Center (CCRC) based at Teachers College, and a Faculty Research Fellow of the National Bureau of Economic Research. Her primary areas of study are labor economics and higher education policy, with a particular focus on financial aid, student employment, and programmatic barriers to persistence and completion at the non-selective public two- and four year institutions that enroll the majority of undergraduates.
Scott-Clayton's research has been published in the Journal of Human Resources, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Education Finance and Policy, and the Future of Children.  Her recent research on the predictive validity of college placement exams merited an article and editorial in the New York Times, and has influenced state and institutional policies on remedial testing. Her quasi-experimental study of the impact of West Virginia's PROMISE scholarship (a state-funded merit-based tuition grant) received coverage from CNN and The New York Times Magazine. Her work examining the adverse consequences of complexity in the federal student aid application process has contributed to national policy debates about financial aid simplification. Ongoing projects include an evaluation of the impact of remediation on future college outcomes, an examination of the consequences of student employment, and an effort to link administrative data sources to analyze the impact of postsecondary experiences on future earnings trajectories.
Scott-Clayton is an active participant in policy working groups at the state and federal level, and she has contributed to the New York Times' Economix and Upshot blogs, focusing on current topics in education. 
Her complete CV is available here
Watch/read her November 2013 testimony to the U.S. Senate on the need for financial aid reform. 
Read her posts on the New York Times Economix Blog and The Upshot blog.  
For links to news coverage, click on "Vitae" above and then click on "Personal News."

Selected Publications

Work-in-progress. "Should We Subsidize Student Employment? Conditional Counterfactuals and the Outcomes of Work-Study Participation," NBER Working Paper No. 20329 (with Veronica Minaya).

Forthcoming. "Improving the Targeting of Treatment: Evidence from College Remediation" (with Peter Crosta and Clive Belfield). Accepted in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. Also available as NBER Working Paper No. 18457.

Forthcoming. "Development, Discouragement, or Diversion? New Evidence on the Effects of College Remediation" (with Olga Rodriguez). Accepted in Education Finance and Policy. Also available as NBER Working Paper No. 18328. 

Forthcoming. "The Shapeless River: Does a Lack of Structure Inhibit Students' Progress at Community Colleges?" in Baum, S., Castleman, B., & Schwartz, S. (eds.). London: Routledge. Earlier version available as Community College Working Paper No. 25 (January 2011).

2013. "Financial Aid Policy: Lessons From Research" (with Susan M. Dynarski). The Future of Children, 23(1): 67-92.

 "Information Constraints and Financial Aid Policy," in Heller, D. & Callender, C. (eds.), Student Financing of Higher Education: A Comparative Perspective, London: Routledge International Studies in Higher Education. Forthcoming. Also available at
"Do High-Stakes Placement Exams Predict College Success?" Community College Research Center Working Paper, no. 41 (February 2012) 

"What Explains Trends in Labor Supply Among U.S. Undergraduates?"
National Tax Journal, vol. 65, no. 1 (March 2012), pp. 181-210. Also available as NBER Working Paper No. 17744

"The Causal Effect of Federal Work-Study Participation: Quasi-Experimental Evidence From West Virginia."
 Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, vol. 33, no. 4 (December 2011), pp. 506-527

 "On Money and Motivation: A Quasi-Experimental Analysis of Financial Incentives for College Achievement." Journal of Human Resources, vol. 46 (Summer 2011), no. 3: pp. 614-646.

  "Assessing Developmental Assessment in Community Colleges: A Review of the Literature". (with Katherine Hughes). Community College Review, vol. 39, no. 4 (October, 2011), pp. 327-351.

 "College Grants on a Postcard: A Proposal for Simple and Predictable Student Aid". (with Susan M. Dynarski). Hamilton Project Discussion Paper (January 2007). Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution

 "The Cost of Complexity in Federal Student Aid: Lessons from Optimal Tax Theory and Behavioral Economics". (with Susan M. Dynarski). National Tax Journal 59:2 (June 2006), pp. 319-356.

current projects

Education and Interstate Mobility:
This project involves linking postsecondary data from Florida to national administrative employment data from the Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics database. First, the researchers will examine the link between specific educational pathways and cross-state mobility. Second, because they can track students across state lines, they will examine national returns to schooling and track students over a longer time period than would be feasible with single-state data. Third, by establishing the link between specific educational pathways and cross-state mobility, they will be able to estimate the direction and magnitude of bias that results when researchers must rely on single-state databases.
This project will analyze data from cohorts of two- and four-year entrants to Florida’s public higher education system between 1991–92 and 2003–04. These data are matched to administrative state employment and earnings records. The researchers will examine the effects of mixing work and schooling on employment and educational outcomes. Specifically, they will study the effects of access to the Federal Work Study (FWS) program, which encourages on-campus work, on educational and labor market outcomes up to five years following anticipated college graduation date.
Subject-Area Incentives:
Using administrative data the researchers will study the impacts of two major new programs intended to encourage students to pursue educational and career paths in high-need fields. The researchers will utilize quasi-experimental approaches to estimate the effects of these programs. An important aspect of this study will be an examination of program take-up rates, given the concern that students may not be aware of all relevant federal-level policies. These data include information determining program eligibility, actual program participation, and academic and labor market outcomes for all cohorts up to two years following college completion.
New Evidence on the Impact of Remediation from a Large Urban Community College System (with Olga Rodriguez):
Using data come from the administrative records of a large urban community college system, the researchers will first examine whether remedial assignment affects the initial enrollment decision or the timing of initial enrollment. Second. they will also examine whether remediation impacts performance on a subsequent standardized exam that is required in order to receive a degree.  Thrid, because they can take advantage of the diversity of this community college system, they will also examine potential heterogeneity in the impact of remediation – across students, institutions, and over time. 
Do High-Stakes Placement Exams Predict College Success?:
This project contributes to the literature by analyzing the predictive validity of one of the most commonly used assessments, using data on over 42,000 first-time entrants to a large urban community college system. Using both traditional correlation coefficients as well as more useful decision-theoretic measures of placement accuracy and error rates, the researcher finds that placement exams are more predictive of success in math than in English, and more predictive of who is likely to do well in college-level coursework than of who is likely to fail.
Learn more: CCRCCAPSEE

custom course list

EDPE 6023 (Spring 2012): Causal Methods for Education Policy Research 

Course overview

This doctoral course covers the design, implementation and interpretation of econometric methods used for evaluating causal relationships in education research.  We will read and discuss applied methodological texts as well as journal articles using advanced causal methods.  We will cover randomized experiments, natural experiments, differences-in-differences, instrumental variables, regression discontinuity, and propensity score matching.  Goals of the course are for students to understand the conceptual underpinnings of each type of study design; to be able to critically evaluate particular studies utilizing of each approach; to gain first-hand experience in formulating causal questions and implementing a causal method; and to develop skills in communicating research designs and findings (in both written and presentation form).  Students will be expected to complete all readings and prepare answers to discussion questions in advance of each class.  Students will work in teams to replicate and extend a paper using these causal methods and will present findings to the class.  The course is designed for second-year PhD students in the Economics and Education program; other doctoral students and advanced masters candidates with appropriate preparation are also welcome, space permitting.

  • Graduate-level statistics (at a minimum, multiple regression analysis, familiarity with concepts of statistical bias and precision)
  • Microeconomics (e.g. exposure to concepts of consumer theory, producer theory, equilibrium analysis, market failure, welfare analysis, choice under uncertainty)
  • Students with any questions about their preparation after the first day of class are encouraged to contact the professor for further guidance.
Course objectives
  • To understand the conceptual underpinnings of current methods for causal inference
  • To be able to read and critically evaluate papers that utilize these methods
  • To gain first-hand experience formulating causal questions and implementing causal methods
  • To develop skills in communicating research designs and findings in both written and oral form
  • To encourage and facilitate collaborative learning and teaching between students
EDPE XXXX (Spring 2013): Labor Economics

Course overview
This course covers important concepts in labor economics, with a focus on how those concepts can be applied and tested in practice. The course will provide an overview of labor market topics such as the returns to education and training, non-monetary forms of compensation, models of labor migration, and models of imperfect or asymmetric information about skills. For each topic, we will examine influential papers and the empirical methods they use. Examples of covered methods will include regression discontinuity, instrumental variables and difference-in-difference designs. The course is intended for doctoral students, and will count towards the Labor Economics requirement for the Economics of Education Ph.D. program. The course is open to other graduate students (space permitting) with previous preparation in economics and statistics/econometrics.  Small adjustments to the syllabus may be made as the course proceeds. 
  • Graduate-level microeconomics (e.g. concepts of consumer theory, partial equilibrium, choice under uncertainty, welfare analysis)
  • Graduate-level statistics and/or econometrics (at a minimum, regression analysis, familiarity with concepts of statistical bias and precision)
  • A course in causal inference is strongly recommended as a prerequisite, but not required  

Course objectives

  • To understand and be able to explain key theoretical concepts in labor economics
  • To be able to read and critique papers that test these concepts empirically
  • To understand the strengths and limitations of methodological tools commonly used in the field
  • To apply concepts from the course to examine a research question of the student’s choosing


honors and awards

2011-2016      Institute for Education Sciences, Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment, ($ 10,000,000, PI: Tom Bailey): Co-director of policy analyses
2010-2011      Spencer Foundation Grant  ($25,000)
2010              Spencer Foundation Exemplary Dissertation Award
2008-2009      Spencer Foundation Dissertation Completion Fellowship

2005-2008      National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (awarded 2003)

2004-2009      Doctoral Fellowship, Harvard University Multidisciplinary Program in Inequality and Social Policy
                     (National Science Foundation IGERT Program)

active professional organizations

Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM)
American Economics Association (AEA)
The Association for Education Finance and Policy (AEFP)

personal news

Documents & Papers

Download: Hamilton paper [PDF]

Download: August2014CV [PDF]

Centers and Projects

Community College Research Center

Judith Scott-Clayton appeared in the following articles:

TC President, 11 Faculty Make 2014 EduScholar Public Influence Rankings (1/9/2014)

CCRC's Judith Scott-Clayton Testifies Before Senate Committee (11/20/2013)

Scott-Clayton Proposes Changes to Pell Grant System (10/31/2013)

Judy Scott-Clayton on College Rankings in the New York Times (10/28/2013 12:07:00 PM)

TC's Scott-Clayton Comments on President Obama's College Affordability Plan (8/21/2013 3:32:00 PM)

TC's Scott-Clayton Comments on President Obama's College Affordability Plan (8/21/2013)

Study: Remedial Courses Aren't Good College Prep, But May Serve Other Purposes (8/24/2012)

Study Co-Authored by TC's Scott-Clayton Suggests State Aid Reforms (5/8/2012)

Scott-Clayton Research Suggests Many College Students Misdiagnosed as Ill-Prepared (4/27/2012)

Judith Scott-Clayton: Are College Entrants Overdiagnosed as Needing Remedial Work? (4/23/2012)

International Conference Will Examine Issues of Validity, Educational Assessment, Equity and Accountability (3/14/2012)

Community Colleges Steer Students to Remedial Classes Who Don't Need Them (2/29/2012)

CCRC's Scott-Clayton: Number of For-Profit Colleges Is Twice What's Reported (2/24/2012)

Do Big-Time Sports Mean Big-Time Support for Universities? (1/27/2012)

TC's Judith Scott-Clayton Finds Hours Worked By College Students Down Sharply from 2009 (1/17/2012)

How much debt do students really take on for a bachelor's degree? (Hint: Probably not as much as you'd think.) (12/5/2011)

Judith Scott-Clayton on New York Times' Economix Blog: "College is Cheaper Than You Think" (11/4/2011)

Education Leaders and Researchers Launch New Center on Education and Employment (10/14/2011)

A Hard Look at Financial Aid and Jobs Programs (9/16/2011)

How Long Does it Take to Earn a Four-Year Degree? For a Majority, Five Years (5/24/2011)

TC's Scott-Clayton Joins Economists' Call to "Cut Pell Wisely" (4/17/2011)

Student-Loan Debt at an All-Time High, Writes TC's Judith Scott-Clayton (4/12/2011)

Scott-Clayton Advocates More Structure, Fewer Choices, for College Students (3/25/2011)

TC's Judith Scott-Clayton Writes About the Merits of For-Profit Colleges (2/28/2011)

New York Times Cites Scott-Clayton Research (1/28/2011)

Strategies for Increasing Community College Student Success Highlighted in New Series of Papers (1/20/2011)