DP17284 College, cognitive ability, and socioeconomic disadvantage: policy lessons from the UK in 1960-2004
University access has greatly expanded during the past decades and further growth figures prominently in political agendas. We study possible consequences of historical and future expansions in a stochastic, general equilibrium Roy model where tertiary educational attainment is determined by cognitive ability and socioeconomic disadvantage. The enlargement of university access enacted in the UK following the 1963 Robbins Report provides an ideal case study to draw lessons for the future. We find that this expansion led to the selection into college of progressively less talented students from advantaged backgrounds and to a declining college wage premium across cohorts. Our structural estimates indicate that the implemented policy was unfit to reach high- ability, disadvantaged individuals as Robbins had instead advocated. We show that counterfactual meritocratic selection policies would have attained that goal and so would have also been progressive.