Historical Happenstance and Local Educational Attainment: Evidence from the Establishment of U.S. Colleges

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We investigate how establishing a college a ects local educational attainment using historical natural experiments in which runner-up locations were strongly considered to become college sites but ultimately not chosen for as-good-as-random reasons. While runner-up counties have since had opportunity to establish their own colleges, winners are still more likely to have a college today. Using this variation, we nd that winning counties today have college degree attainment rates 58% higher than runner-up counties and have larger shares of employment in high human capital sectors. These e ects are not driven primarily by college employees, migration, or local development.