Pictured: H. Oliver Gao, Christian D. Sprague, Peter Rich, and Nicholas J. Klein.
Christian D. Sprague was awarded Cornell’s 2021 CTECH Ph.D. Dissertation Award. He is working towards his Ph.D. in Systems Engineering under co-committee chairs Oliver Gao and Peter Rich. Sprague’s project, entitled Convenience is King: School Choice, Student Outcomes, and the Role of Education Policy, investigates the effects of inconvenient school access on inequalities in educational opportunity, school segregation, and student travel demands. In the modern era of school choice, policies that affect the ease in which schools are made accessible can dramatically alter household enrollment behavior. School district boundary lines, constrained bussing service areas, stringent transfer policies, and limited placement all throttle the convenience of school access and enrollment. Therefore, depending on the policy arrangement, policymakers can encourage or discourage households from certain schooling options. Sprague argues that, from the perspective of perfect accessibility, such policies form an implicit “inconvenience tax” which affects the ability of households to select schools. As policy arrangements vary across geography, a resident may incur an exorbitant burden when selecting a certain enrollment option, whereas their neighbor may incur little to none for the same school. By understanding this uneven spatial distribution, he explores how household preferences and the built environment mediate these policy-influenced educational disparities, especially for socio-economically disadvantaged households seeking access to high quality schools.