Dissertation Defense: “Essays in Applied Labor Economics”, Trevor Osaki

Date and Time
North Hall 2113

Join us to hear Trevor’s Dissertation Defense. He will be defending his dissertation, “Essays in Applied Labor
Economics” To access a copy of the dissertation, you must have an active UCSB NetID and password.


Trevor is a PhD Candidate at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Prior to attending UCSB he received his Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Occidental College (2017). His research interests lie within the fields of labor economics, the economics of education, and public economics. Specifically, he studies the effects of policies intended to improve access to higher education, such as federal financial aid programs and test-optional admissions. Trevor also explores topics in labor market discrimination, e.g., fairness attitudes toward discriminatory actions.


This dissertation includes three chapters in applied labor economics. The first chapter considers the growing trends of colleges and universities making the submission of SAT and ACT scores optional for undergraduate admissions to bolster racial diversity. It uses a panel of liberal arts colleges from IPEDS and applies a two-way fixed effects approach to determine whether this test-optional policy is effective at achieving this goal. It also estimates the impact of the policy on the graduation rates for underrepresented minority (URM) students. This chapter finds that the policy bolsters freshman URM enrollment among test-optional institutions throughout the sample as a whole, regardless of admissions selectivity and early versus late treatment timing. The effects of this policy on the URM 4-year and 6-year graduation rates are heterogeneous across colleges by their selectivity in admissions. While the most selective colleges in the panel experience no change in URM graduation rates, less-selective colleges experience declines in these graduation rates.

The second chapter, joint with Peter Kuhn, uses a vignette-based survey experiment on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to measure how people’s assessments of the fairness of race-based hiring decisions vary with the motivation and circumstances surrounding the discriminatory act and the races of the parties involved. Regardless of their political leaning, survey subjects react in very similar ways to the employer’s motivations for the action, such as the quality of information on which statistical discrimination is based. Compared to conservatives, moderates and liberals are much less accepting of discriminatory actions and consider the discriminatee’s race when making their fairness assessments. This chapter also describes four pre-registered models of fairness – utilitarianism, race-blind rules (RBRs), racial in-group bias, and belief-based utilitarianism (BBU) – and shows that the latter two are inconsistent with major
aggregate patterns in the survey data. Instead, it argues that a two-group framework, in which one group (mostly self-described conservatives) values employers’ decision rights and the remaining respondents value utilitarian concerns, explains the main findings well. In this model, both groups also value applying a consistent set of fairness rules in a race-blind manner.

The third chapter estimates the effects of the Federal Perkins Loans Program on students’ non-academic work status and labor supply, as well as their choice of STEM major and post-graduation occupation. Perkins loans were unique because they converted into grants if a student recipient entered a designated career path. Therefore, this chapter leverages this conditional loan cancellation feature to determine whether recipients enjoyed the benefits often associated with grant programs (e.g., reduced incentive to work) and motivated them to enter loan-forgiving occupations. It finds that Perkins loans reduce students’ non-academic work activity and grades. And it finds that the program had little impact on their likelihood of pursuing a STEM major or loan-forgiving occupation.