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States Where Marijuana is Legal Sees A Boost in College Application Numbers

By Therin Miller | August 10, 2022

According to a new study, colleges in marijuana-legalized jurisdictions had bigger candidate pools with no discernible drop in student applicant quality.

Researchers intended to investigate the association between cannabis law change and college application trends. They discovered that adult-use legalization in a state is connected with a nearly 15% rise in the size of the candidate pool for universities in that state.

The impacts were particularly noticeable in early adopter states like Colorado, which had a roughly 30% surge in applications to more significant colleges in the state following legalization. Following the repeal of the cannabis prohibition in Washington State, more students applied.

The study used a three-pronged approach, including regression discontinuity models, fixed effects models, and unique techniques to collect data from the Integrated Post Secondary Educational Data System, which includes nearly all four-year colleges. The researchers concentrated on application patterns between 2008 and 2020.

Surprisingly, the study discovered that the pattern weakens as the state legalization movement spreads. This makes sense. With the vast majority of states now legalizing cannabis in some form and law enforcement generally prioritizing enforcement of low-level marijuana crimes either by statute or discretion, the once novel policy that seemed to attract students to specific states is now more widespread, broadening applicants' options if cannabis laws were a factor in their decision-making.

The researchers at Emory University's Oxford College and the University of South Carolina studied whether colleges in adult-use legalization states saw applicants of varying quality based on data from standardized examinations such as the SAT.

The answer, it turns out, is that no statistically significant difference exists. In fact, there is minimal evidence that legalizing adult usage is "related to a higher-quality accepted cohort" for universities in such jurisdictions.

"This effect appears to be durable over time for non-flagship institutions," according to the report. "We take this to suggest that [recreational marijuana] availability increased student cohort quality at best and had no effect at worst."

The empirical analysis conducted by the researchers also considered irrelevant criteria that students may consider when picking which universities to apply to, such as work potential and income prospects. The researchers used regression discontinuity design models to adjust for factors like tuition rates.

One topic that the study did not address, despite the fact that it has not yet been peer-reviewed and is already available in pre-print form, is the long-term impact on academic performance for students who enrolled in a certain institution, at least in part, due of the change in state marijuana legislation.

According to the researchers, they did assess retention and graduation rates, which appeared to be "unaffected" by state-level legislation. To build on this research, they suggested that future studies look at GPAs and other long-term patterns.

However, the findings on increased application pools with no discernible impact on applicant quality should be "of importance to both college administrators and policymakers in understanding how permissive public policy impacts the college location choices of young college-bound individuals-decisions that may have long-run local economic consequences."

"Our data show that, regardless of academic prowess, many of them found [recreational marijuana] availability to be desirable," they stated. "However, these specific policy consequences accrued only to the first few cohorts of legalized states, and this effect lessened as more schools permitted RMJ to be legally available."

"As additional states legalize RMJ and federal officials explore the same for the entire country," the paper says, "our analysis emphasizes the potential for positive gains for institutions wanting to increase their application pools, with no indication of detrimental consequences." "With obvious importance on our coefficients, we are confident in our conclusions for application quantity and quality, even with so many criteria and assumptions for robustness."

Separately, a study conducted earlier this year challenged the assumption that cannabis users are unmotivated, with researchers discovering that college students who used cannabis were more motivated than a control group of non-users.


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