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Working Papers

February 2014, No. 14-03

Stepping Stone and Option Value in a Model of Postsecondary Education

Nicholas Trachter

A stepping stone arises in risky environments with learning and transferable human capital. An example is the role played by academic two-year colleges in postsecondary education: Students, as they learn about the uncertain educational outcomes, can drop out or transfer up to harder and more rewarding schools, carrying a fraction of the accumulated human capital. A theory of education is built and contrasted empirically to find that i) option value explains a large part of returns to enrollment, ii) enrollment in academic two-year colleges is driven by the option to transfer up, and iii) the value of the stepping stone is small.

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