Solomon M. Gofere

PhD Candidate, Columbia University in the City of New York

Job Market Paper

College Admission Competition and College Field Preference: Evidence from Pre-College Program in Ethiopia


In this paper we study whether college admission competition affects college field choice decisions of students in a field-specific college admission system. We leverage a college admission reform in Ethiopia that exogenously increased the proportion of college seats allocated to pre-college science (STEM) track students at expense of those in pre-college humanities track to study how college admission competition affects the college field choice behavior of students. Using detailed academic records of nearly 2 million students we compare the field choice behavior of cohorts treated by the reform to those of pre-reform cohorts. We report four sets of results. First, although the admission reform increased the proportion of college seats allocated to students in the STEM track by 20 percentage points permanently, the college admission rate in the STEM track increased only in the short run, suggesting that the new admission policy triggered an immediate increase in demand for STEM fields. Second, we find that due to the decrease in admission selectivity in the STEM track, demand for college STEM fields increased by 19 percentage points among the first cohorts treated by the reform. Most importantly, we find that the increase in demand for STEM fields is the largest among marginal students (students near the pre-reform admission cutoff points) compared to infra-marginal ones, suggesting that the increase in demand for STEM is likely motivated by college admission concerns. Third, using complier analysis and machine learning based counterfactual estimates, we show that the reform induced Roy (1951) model type positive selection towards STEM fields. Specifically, we find that compliers have relatively better STEM relevant skills than never takers but are worse at skills deemed useful in humanities fields. Finally, using a quasi-random exam room seat and exam booklet code assignment, we provide suggestive evidence that the reform and the sorting pattern that followed may have led to an increase in academic cheating in college admission exams among science track students as a behavioral response to the potentially challenging science curriculum to marginal students induced to switch to STEM track. Taken together these results suggest that in a centralized college admission system where an outside option is mechanically absent, admission concern plays a critical role in college field choice decisions of students, potentially comparable in magnitude to key factors such as expected earnings and pure preferences. [Complete draft will be available soon]

Working Papers

Mobile Networks and Health Literacy: Evidence from Sub-Saharan Africa [Draft available on request]


Mobile technologies have considerable potential to improve access to health information. Many public and not-for-profit health programs in sub-Saharan Africa have leveraged mobile technologies to deliver critical health information to the population in poor health infrastructure areas. Studies also show that a considerable percentage of individuals in sub-Saharan Africa use the internet to access information about diseases and health in general. This study explores the effect of the fast spread of mobile technologies on health literacy levels in sub-Saharan Africa. In particular, using Demographic and Health Surveys (IPUMS--DHS) data from 25 sub-Saharan African countries and a historical mobile network coverage map, we study whether the fast expansion of Second Generation (2G) and Third Generation (3G) mobile technologies across Africa in the last two decades has led to improved health knowledge with a specific focus on knowledge and misconceptions about HIV and AIDS. Using an instrumental variable strategy for endogenous expansion of mobile networks across the continent, we find that the expansion of mobile telecommunication technology has led to large and significant improvement in health knowledge in sub-Saharan Africa. Specifically, we find that having access to 2G or 3G technology significantly decreases the proportion of respondents with misconceptions about HIV and AIDS. We also show that this relationship is stronger the longer the respondent had access to either or both of these technologies. Consistent with the flexibility that it provides in terms of actively searching for information, 3G technology seems to have led to a larger gain in health literacy in regions where the technology has been widely available. We provide some robustness checks and falsification exercises.

Academic Cheating in Admission Exams and College Outcomes: Evidence from College Admission Exams in Ethiopia [Draft available on request]


This study explores two interrelated questions. In the first part, we explore the extent of academic cheating in the Ethiopian high stakes college admission exams. Using quasi-random exam room seat and exam booklet code assignment for close to two million students in the Ethiopian pre-college program, I present two approaches to estimate the extent of academic cheating using aggregate subject level test scores data. Three outcome variables are studied - subject level exam scores, the likelihood of college admission, and student level excess score variation. The study also explores heterogeneity in academic cheating along several dimensions including the level of acquaintances between students and whether the student is a gender-based affirmative action beneficiary. In the second part, we study the social cost of academic cheating by exploring the college-level outcomes such as drop-out and on-time graduation rates. The result shows that on average answer copying accounts for up to 5 percentage points of subject-level scores of students seating in the neighborhood of high-achieving students. Overall, students seating in the neighborhood of a high achieving student are up to 13 percentage points more likely to be admitted to college than those seating very far from a high achieving student. There is large heterogeneity in cheating across various dimensions. We provide some robustness checks. Finally, we provide some back-of-the-envelope calculation of the social welfare loss due to academic cheating.

Birth Spacing and Children's Birth and Long Term Outcomes: Evidence from National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) [Draft available on request]


We study the relationship between birth spacing and children's outcomes with a focus on the mechanisms that underlie the relationship. Using linked mother-child data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, we specifically explore two mechanisms: the maternal health and physiology channel and the material and parental time input channel. Using pregnancy loss as an instrument we find that short pre-birth inter-pregnancy interval negatively affects the birth endowment of a child, highlighting the importance of maternal health and physiology channel. The study also provides evidence in support of material and parental time input channels. In particular, we show that closely spaced siblings have lower academic test scores. We show that these results are robust to different sample restrictions and falsification exercises. We also plan to extend this analysis to study if these short-term relationships project to long-term outcomes including educational achievement and labor market outcomes.

Other Research in Progress

Labor Market Supply Shock and Firm Performance: Evidence from Ethiopia

In developing countries manufacturing firms use labor extensively even for production processes long replaced by capital in the western world. As a result, the supply and the skill of the labor force in the local labor market play a crucial role in the performances and growths of these firms both in the short and long run. We study how a sharp increase in the supply of Science, Technology, and Engineering college graduates in a local labor market affects the performance of manufacturing firms in a developing country setting. Specifically, we leverage a college admission reform in Ethiopia that exogenously increased the number of college Science, Technology, and Engineering graduates permanently by 20 percentage points in 2008 to study the investment behavior, productivity, and profitability of Ethiopian manufacturing firms. In theory the reform makes firms more profitable even when there is no additional labor investment. With the reform, marginal labor investment will also be more profitable that investment in capital. To study this theoretical predictions we combine survey data with administrative data from medium and large scale manufacturing firms in Ethiopia. In addition to carefully documenting firms' response in a descriptive analysis, we (tentatively) plan to implement a difference-in-difference empirical design comparing the investment behavior and performances of labor vs capital-intensive manufacturing firms before and after the reform. We also provide an insight in to the effect of the shock by comparing firms known to depend on Science, Technology and Engineering graduates to those that are less reliant on those skills [this project is at a data collection and early analysis stage].

Temperature Stress and Cognitive Performance: Evidence from College Admission Exams

This study examines the effect of elevated ambient temperature on cognitive performance. We link students' academic records on high-stakes Ethiopian college entrance exams and daily weather data to study the effect of heat stress on cognitive function. A growing number of studies have examined the effect of heat stress on cognitive function and human capital accumulation. This study develops on the existing literature in many ways. First, leveraging subject-level exam scores we study how the effect of heat stress on cognitive function differs across academic subjects (tasks) with different levels of complexity. Second, to test the hypothesis that the effect of temperature stress on cognitive performance significantly depends on the skill level of the individual exposed to the stress, we study heterogeneity in the effect of heat stress across the ability distribution of students. Third, using an institutional setting that makes it nearly impossible for exam re-takers to be admitted to college, we document how a temporary shock to academic scores due to elevated ambient temperature can be transformed into long-term human capital accumulation and welfare costs [this project is at a data collection and early analysis stage].

Detecting Academic Cheating in Aggregate Test Score Data: A Machine Learning Approach [This project is at a very early stage]

Protests and Productivity: The Effect of Political Protests on Firm Performances in Ethiopia [This project is at a very early stage]


To be or not to be: The Dilemma of Africa's Economic Engagement with China and Other Emerging Economies, Journal of Africa Review, 5(2), 2013. (with Alemayehu Geda and Matias Aseffa)


In this study an attempt to examine China−Africa trade potential and the implications of exploiting that potential is made. The potential is examined using the Trade Complementarity Index and the stochastic frontier gravity model of trade. The results suggest that there is considerable potential to expand China−Africa trade. Apart from reforming trade policies, removing other behind-the-border socio-political-institutional constraints and improving trade facilitation would contribute to realization of this potential. However, the realization of this potential may entail locking African countries in primary commodity sectors (and hence de-industrialization). A non-parametric test using the ‘Galtonian regression method’ as well as a multi-country version of the Heckscher−Ohlin−Vanek trade model is employed to test this pattern. The results suggest that African countries are characterized by re-deepening specialization in the primary commodity exports sector owing to China's commodity demand surge. We also found that the indirect impacts of this demand surge are more significant. This calls for strategic policy engagement with China, India and other emerging economies such as Brazil with the aim of balancing between the temporary resource windfall gain and the future industrialization and development of the continent.