Colleges in States Legalizing Marijuana See Increase in Achieving Student Applications, Study Finds
Colleges located in states where recreational marijuana became legal over the past decade saw a significant but short-lived increase in applications from high-profile students, according to a recent study conducted by our team and published in the peer-reviewed journal Contemporary Economic Policy.
Temporary Growth of Applications
In the year following the legalization of recreational marijuana in a particular state, the number of applications for colleges in that state increased approximately 5,5% more than in states where legalization did not occur . This means that colleges located in states where marijuana is legal have benefited from a temporary increase in applications. No increase was detected beyond the initial peak. The study results take into account school quality, tuition costs and job market conditions that may influence students' application decisions.
Increased Benefits for Grandes Écoles
At a more detailed level, the gains were greatest for larger schools, which saw a nearly 54% increase in applications compared to similarly sized schools in states where legalization did not occur. Public colleges and universities benefited more than private institutions, although applications for private schools also increased in states with recreational marijuana became legal.
Attracting High-Performing Students
Additionally, schools have seen an increase in applications from high-performing students. Standardized test scores for the top quarter of applicants have increased along with the quantity of applications.
Importance for Higher Education Institutions
The importance of these findings is that as researchers continue to evaluate the risks and benefits of recreational marijuana, our results show that institutions of higher education benefit when their home states allow use. of cannabis. One advantage is that they have a larger and more successful applicant pool, which can potentially improve a school’s academic profile.
Integration into Research on Student Application Choices
Our results are part of a broader body of research analyzing what influences students’ application choices. We found that, similar to spikes in applications and SAT scores when schools have winning sports teams, schools experience spikes when they are located in states that legalize marijuana. Although our data cannot explicitly prove this, it suggests that students consider local policies in their college choice, a result of interest to researchers and policymakers.
The methodology of our work is based on the use of the Integrated Postsecondary Data System (IPEDS) – a federal database commonly referred to as IPEDS – which provides information on various academic metrics. We analyzed student demographics, detailed tuition costs before and after applying for financial aid, and state laws to determine when recreational marijuana would be available to students in a particular academic year. As long as recreational marijuana was legally available before the end of January, when many applications are filed, we argue that marijuana could plausibly influence a prospective student's application decision for the following fall semester.
Outstanding Questions and Future Perspectives
However, our dataset does not allow us to determine why freshmen, who often come directly from high school and therefore do not have legal age (21 years old) to purchase recreational marijuana, could base their application decisions on its availability. This could be because legal sales create a perception among potential applicants that underage consumption is less risky. This could simply be because widespread media coverage has made certain states more popular. Or it could be because more permissive public policies in one area, such as marijuana laws, might suggest more attractive and liberalized policies in other areas important to students, such as abortion. It's hard to say without directly asking the students themselves.
We also do not know the extent to which post-legalization increases in applications are driven by students from other states. For example, has legalization in Colorado caused students from other states to apply to Colorado schools in greater numbers? Conversely, have resident students chosen to apply to even more Colorado schools than they would have in the absence of recreational marijuana, as a way to remain in their home state?
The IPEDS database does not require schools to distinguish between resident and non-resident applicants. However, the database distinguishes registrants as residents or non-residents. From there, we see that enrollment from out of state increased by almost 25% for the largest schools during the year of marijuana legalization. However, applying and registering are two very different actions. Applying indicates interest, but registering is more of a commitment.
Future Perspectives and Conclusion
Further analysis of the impact of legalization on college application rates could provide important information for schools in states that allow cannabis use without fear of incarceration. Likewise, it would be interesting to examine how legal marijuana has affected student outcomes for all schools, while accounting for the national disruptions associated with COVID-19.