Environmental shocks and higher education: How did an earthquake and air pollution influence college access and graduate mobility?

CHAIR: Dr. Po YANG, Graduate School of Education, Peking University, China
Dr. Wei LU, Hangzhou Normal University, China
Ms. Yulian CAO, Graduate School of Education, Peking University, China
Mr. Zekai ZHONG, Graduate School of Education, Peking University, China

The quest for the innovation-driven growth has motivated nation states, regions, and cities competing for higher education graduates with favorable admission and graduate employment policies. However, environmental shocks are controversial factors which push college applicants and graduates away from particular localities. These shocks provide rare opportunities to identify causal drivers for domestic mobility of college students.

In this talk, we will discuss the effect of environmental shocks in China using the national college entrance examination database and graduate surveys. The first two studies utilized the difference-in-difference model to estimate the effect of a severe earthquake, the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake in Sichuan province. The studies report a negative and significant impact of the earthquake on local high school graduates’ National College Entrance Examination standard scores. The earthquake lowered the prospective students’ access to elite colleges and opportunities to pursue a major in a high-salary field. For college graduates, the earthquake exposure increased one’s mobility out of Sichuan. The third study finds that air pollution in college towns pushed graduates into pursuing employment in cities with better air quality, due to health awareness, the opportunity effect and the welfare effect.

The talk will add to current understanding of the impact of natural disasters on higher education and domestic mobility of college graduates.