Scott-Clayton

Judith Scott-Clayton

Associate Professor of Economics and Education, Teachers College, Columbia University
Areas of Expertise:
  • Higher Education
  • School Reform
  • Economic Growth & Innovation
  • Jobs & Workers

About Judith

Scott-Clayton teaches courses on labor economics and causal inference. In addition to her position at Teachers College, Columbia University, she is also a Faculty Research Fellow of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and a Senior Research Associate at the Community College Research Center (CCRC). Her primary research interests are labor economics and higher education policy, with recent work focusing on financial aid simplification, state merit-based aid programs, student employment, and remedial testing and course-taking. Her research has received national media coverage and has contributed to policy discussions at both the state and federal level, and in November 2013 she testified before the U.S. Senate on the need for financial aid simplification. Scott-Clayton holds a BA from Wellesley College and a PhD in Public Policy from Harvard University.

Briefs

Podcast

Publications

"The Cost of Complexity in Federal Student Aid: Lessons from Optimal Tax Theory and Behavioral Economics" (with Susan M. Dynarski). National Tax Journal 59, no. 2 (2006): 319-356.
Describes the complexity of the aid system, and applies lessons from optimal tax theory and behavioral economics to show that complexity is a serious obstacle to both efficiency and equity in the distribution of student aid.
"College Grants on a Postcard: A Proposal for Simple and Predictable Student Aid," (with Susan M. Dynarski), Hamilton Project Discussion Paper 2007-01, The Brookings Institution, January 31, 2007.
Proposes a drastic simplification of the current system of educational grants and tax incentives, combining Pell Grants and the Hope and Lifetime Learning tax credits for undergraduates into a single, streamlined grant administered through the Department of Education, using information already collected by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
"The Shapeless River: Does a Lack of Structure Inhibit Students’ Progress at Community Colleges?," CCRC Working Paper No. 25, Columbia University, December 31, 2010.
Reviews the evidence for what is called the structure hypothesis: that community college students will be more likely to persist and succeed in programs that are tightly and consciously structured, with relatively little room for individuals to unintentionally deviate from paths toward completion, and with limited bureaucratic obstacles for students to circumnavigate.
"On Money and Motivation: A Quasi-Experimental Analysis of Financial Incentives for College Achievement" Journal of Human Resources 46, no. 3 (2011): 614-646.
Examines the PROMISE program in West Virginia, which offers free tuition to students who maintain a minimum GPA and course load. Uses administrative data to exploit discontinuities in the eligibility formula and the timing of implementation to estimate causal effects.
"Information Constraints and Financial Aid Policy" in Student Financing of Higher Education: A Comparative Perspective, edited by by Donald E. Heller and Claire Callender (Routledge International Studies in Higher Education, 2013), 75-97.
Describes the information problems facing prospective students as well as their consequences, drawing upon economic theory and empirical evidence.
"Redesigning the Pell Grant Program for the Twenty-First Century," (with Sandy Baum), Hamilton Project Discussion Paper 2013-04, The Brookings Institution, September 30, 2013.
Proposes three major structural reforms to the Pell grant program, including augmenting financial support with tailored guidance and support services, dramatically simplifying the eligibility and application process, and strengthening incentives for student effort and timely completion.
"Development, Discouragement, or Diversion? New Evidence on the Effects of College Remediation" (with Olga Rodriguez). Education Finance and Policy (forthcoming).
Articulates three alternative models of remediation to help guide interpretation of sometimes conflicting results in the literature. Examines several under-explored outcomes in addition to credits and degree completion, including the initial decision to enroll, grades in subsequent college courses, and post-treatment proficiency test scores. Exploits rich high school background data to examine heterogeneity in the impact of remedial assignment by predicted academic risk.
"Improving the Targeting of Treatment: Evidence from College Remediation" (with Peter Crosta and Clive Belfield). Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis (forthcoming).
Uses administrative data and a rich predictive model to examine the accuracy of remedial screening tests, either instead of or in addition to using high school transcript data to determine remedial assignment. Finds that roughly one in four test-takers in math and one in three test-takers in English are severely mis-assigned under current test-based policies.

In the News

Judith Scott-Clayton quoted in Matthew Chingos and Susan Dynarski, "An International Final Four: Which Country Handles Student Debt Best?" The New York Times, April 2, 2018.
Judith Scott-Clayton quoted in Dan Kopf and Amy X. Wang, "America's Daunting Student Debt Crisis is about to Get Even Worse" Quartz, January 19, 2018.
Judith Scott-Clayton quoted in Jillian Berman, "Black College Graduates Default on Their Student Debt more than White Dropouts" MarketWatch, January 15, 2018.
"Study: Looming Student Loan Default Crisis Will be Worse than Projected," Judith Scott-Clayton, Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, January 15, 2018.
Judith Scott-Clayton quoted on racial disparity in student debt in Jillian Berman, "Recent Black College Graduates Owe Nearly $25,000 More Than White Grads" MarketWatch, October 20, 2016.
Judith Scott-Clayton quoted on racial disparities in student debt in Josh Mitchell, "Black College Grads Owe Nearly Twice as Much Student Debt as Whites Four Years Out" Wall Street Journal, October 20, 2016.
Judith Scott-Clayton's research on college debt for people of color discussed in James DenninJudith Scott-Clayton, "Black College Students Graduate with More Debt than White Peers — and Then the Gap Triples," Mic, October 21, 2016.
Judith Scott-Clayton's research on the gap in student debt discussed in Emily DeruyJudith Scott-Clayton, "The Racial Disparity of the Student-Loan Crisis," The Atlantic, October 24, 2016.
Judith Scott-Clayton quoted on the benefits of a scholarship in Jillian Berman, "How Free College Can Affect You Later in Life" MarketWatch, August 30, 2016.
Judith Scott-Clayton's research on complex programs discussed in Jay MathewsJudith Scott-Clayton, "Offering Too Many Choices Can Hurt Community Colleges and Their Students," The Washington Post, October 1, 2015.
Judith Scott-Clayton's research on simplifying the FAFSA discussed in Claudio SanchezJudith Scott-Clayton, "College Aid Forms Prove Too Tough a Test," NPR, February 23, 2008.
Judith Scott-Clayton's research on the West Virginia scholarship program discussed in David LeonhardtJudith Scott-Clayton, "The Big Fix," New York Times Magazine, February 1, 2009.
Guest to discuss ways to improve college graduation rates on CNN Newsroom, Judith Scott-Clayton, May 12, 2010.
Judith Scott-Clayton's research on the effects of West Virginia’s merit scholarship program discussed in David LeonhardtJudith Scott-Clayton, "Cut Waste or Invest? Try Both," New York Times, January 25, 2011.
"Can Better Choice Architecture Improve College Completion Rates?," Judith Scott-Clayton, Teachers College Record, February 23, 2011.
"The Merits of For-Profit Colleges," Judith Scott-Clayton, Economix Blog, New York Times, February 25, 2011.
"The Dark Side of Choice in Higher Education," Judith Scott-Clayton, Economix Blog, New York Times, March 25, 2011.
"How Worrisome is Student Debt?," Judith Scott-Clayton, Economix Blog, New York Times, April 15, 2011.
Judith Scott-Clayton's research on how overwhelming choice affects student decisions discussed in Daniel LuzerJudith Scott-Clayton, "Too Much Choice?," Washington Monthly, April 27, 2011.
"The Rise of the Five-Year Four-Year Degree," Judith Scott-Clayton, Economix Blog, New York Times, May 20, 2011.
"A Jobs Program in Need of Reform," Judith Scott-Clayton, Economix Blog, New York Times, September 9, 2011.
"From Kindergarten to College Completion," Judith Scott-Clayton, Economix Blog, New York Times, October 7, 2011.
"College is Cheaper Than You Think," Judith Scott-Clayton, Economix Blog, New York Times, November 4, 2011.
"Student Loan Debt: Who are the 1%?," Judith Scott-Clayton, Economix Blog, New York Times, December 2, 2011.
Judith Scott-Clayton's research on fluctuations in student working hours discussed in Scott JaschikJudith Scott-Clayton, "Student Work Hours: Up and Down," Inside Higher Ed, January 17, 2012.
"Do Big-Time Sports Mean Big-Time Support for Universities?," Judith Scott-Clayton, Economix Blog, New York Times, January 27, 2012.
"The Hidden Majority of For-Profit Colleges," Judith Scott-Clayton, Economix Blog, New York Times, February 24, 2012.
Judith Scott-Clayton's research on on the pitfalls of remedial placement practices discussed in Tamar LewinJudith Scott-Clayton, "Colleges Misassign Many to Remedial Classes, Studies Find," New York Times, February 28, 2012.
"Who Shouldn’t Go to College?," Judith Scott-Clayton, Economix Blog, New York Times, March 23, 2012.
Judith Scott-Clayton's research on how standardized tests affect remedial placements discussed in Paul FainJudith Scott-Clayton, "Connecticut Legislature Mulls Elimination of Remedial Courses," Inside Higher Ed, April 4, 2012.
"Are College Entrants Overdiagnosed as Underprepared?," Judith Scott-Clayton, Economix Blog, New York Times, April 20, 2012.
Guest to discuss student loans on PBS Newshour, Judith Scott-Clayton, May 30, 2012.
Judith Scott-Clayton's research on remedial placement discussed in Carla RiveraJudith Scott-Clayton, "Long Beach City College Tries an Alternative to Placement Tests," Los Angeles Times, June 25, 2012.
Guest to discuss President Obama’s college rating plan on NPR’s On Point with Tom Ashbrook, Judith Scott-Clayton, August 27, 2013.
Judith Scott-Clayton's research on the effects of well-structured college programs discussed in Ann HulburtJudith Scott-Clayton, "How to Escape the Community College Trap," The Atlantic, December 22, 2013.
Judith Scott-Clayton's research on on financial aid simplification (with Susan M. Dynarski) discussed in Senators Lamar Alexander and Michael BennetJudith Scott-Clayton, "An Answer on a Postcard: Simplifying FAFSA Will Get More Kids into College," New York Times, June 18, 2014.