Community Colleges and Adult Health

The investigators are identifying the causal effect of college enrollment and attainment on health by examining how community college access modifies risky health behaviors and outcomes later in adulthood. In order to identify the causal effect of college enrollment on health behaviors, the investigators are evaluating the differential opening of new colleges and universities by state over the time period 1960-1995. Research findings will determine to what extent community college attainment affects health behaviors and outcomes, and inform decisions about policies and funding for community colleges.


Researchers found that public 2-year colleges per capita at the time an individual was 17 years old has a significant effect on their schooling and, for some groups, adult earnings and employment. Their estimates imply substantial market returns to higher education, which is consistent with many papers in the returns-to-schooling literature. Furthermore, using NHIS data, they found that public 2-year access improves the health behaviors and outcomes later in adulthood—it reduces the likelihood of smoking, increases exercise frequency, and is associated with better self-reported health.


Health & well-being: risky health behaviors and outcomes including smoking, heavy drinking, exercise, obesity status, self-reported health, and disease incidence

Other: measures of college attainment (including some college completion, Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees) employment status


The researchers are estimating a regression relating educational outcomes to measures of college access. The collection of state-by-year and cohort indicator variables is included in the model so that estimates of the effects of college access on attainment represent “differences in differences” in educational attainment over birth state and cohort.

Young college students in lecture
Grantee and Partner organizations

Washington State University, School of Economic Sciences

Grant status
In Progress
Principal investigators
Benjamin Cowan, PhD
Nathan Tefft, PhD
Start date
Award amount
24 months

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