Journal of Applied Econometrics vol:25 issue:3 pages:355-391
We analyze the decision whether to participate and where and what to study in a public system of higher education, based on a unique dataset of all eligible high school pupils in an essentially closed region (Flanders). We find that pupils perceive the available institutions and programs as close substitutes relative to the outside option. This implies an ambiguous role for travel costs: they hardly affect the participation decision, but have a strong impact on the decision where and what to study. To illustrate how our empirical results can inform the debate on reforming public systems, we assess the effects of tuition fee increases. Uniform cost-based tuition fee increases achieve most of the welfare gains; the additional gains from fee differentiation are relatively limited. These welfare gains are quite large under conservative assumptions on the social cost of public funds, and there is a substantial redistribution from students to outsiders.