Locked Up Means Locked Out: The Effects of the Federal Drug Laws of the 1980s and 1990s on Black Male Students’ College Enrollment
Britton, Tolani Ayodele
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AbstractWhile research documents that rates of college access and completion have increased during the past several decades, the trend data also reveal differences by race and gender, with Black men having lower levels of college enrollment than other groups and experiencing a slower rate of improvement in college outcomes. This dissertation explores one possible reason for the educational gaps experienced by Black men. Using variation in state marijuana possession and distribution laws and state Truth in Sentencing (TIS) laws, I examine whether the Anti-Drug Act of 1986 and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which led to the disproportionate incarceration of Black males for drug possession and manufacture, also helps to explain differences in college enrollment and graduation rates by race and gender. For my analysis, I use the Current Population Survey (CPS) October Supplements from 1984 – 2007 and information state marijuana laws and TIS adoption.
In the first paper, which looks at the effect of the Anti-Drug Act of 1986 on Black male college enrollment, I use a difference-in-differences strategy that exploits both the introduction of tougher federal laws and variation in state laws with regards to penalties for marijuana possession and distribution. Overall, the results suggest that Black males had a 2.2% point decrease in the relative probability of college enrollment after the passage of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 as compared to both Black females and non-Black males prior to the law change but the change was not driven by changes in marijuana laws. Instead, it was driven by changes in crack cocaine laws.
For the second paper, which examines the effects of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, I employ two strategies. The first strategy is a difference-in-differences that employs variation across states in the timing of TIS laws. I also carry out an event study within states that compares the probability of college enrollment for Black men in each year after the passage of TIS laws in states that adopted these policies to the probability in the years prior. Overall, the results suggest that Black males had a decrease in the relative probability of college enrollment after the enactment of TIS policies, when compared to the probability of enrollment for non-Black men prior to the law change.
Together, these studies suggest there is an important link between the criminal justice system and educational attainment that is likely underestimated by this study.
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