The Not-So-Secret March Madness Effect

The Not-So-Secret March Madness Effect

April 09, 2018
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Have you ever wondered how students select colleges? Economic theory suggests, “Models of college choice typically assume that high school students are fully informed and choose to apply to and eventually attend a school that maximizes their expected, present discounted value of future wages less the costs associated with college attendance.”

It’s a good theory, if you’re an economist who believes people act in perfectly rational ways. Of course, there aren’t many high school students (or parents) who can explain the present discounted value of something, much less use it as a tool to choose a college.

The filters on college search tools include criteria that may be more relevant to the decision. College Board’s BigFuture online interactive guide asks students to consider their test scores – as well as a college or university’s geography, size, type, cost, diversity, and support services – among other factors.

Those other factors include college sports. As it turns out, the success of a school’s sports teams plays a significant role in the college selection process for some students. The Journal of Sports Economics published ‘Understanding College Application Decisions: Why College Sports Success Matters.’ It’s the work of economists at the University of Chicago(UC) who found:

“A school that is invited to the NCAA basketball tournament can on average expect an increase in sent SAT scores in the range of 2 percent to 11 percent the following year depending on how far the team advances in the tournament. The top 20 football teams also can expect increases of between 2 percent and 12 percent the following year.”

Having a sports team make it to the Final Four is roughly equivalent to a college adjusting tuition or financial aid by 6 percent to 32 percent or moving halfway up the list on the U.S.News College Rankings, according to UC researchers.

LPL TRACKING #1-717855

SOURCES: (Pages 107-108; 127; and 128)