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Graduate Economics Research on Tuition Earns Alumna Praise

Riley Acton ’15 earns the award for best original research paper by a third-year doctoral student at Michigan State University.

Acton is winning praise in her graduate economics program, using the math and economics skills she learned as an undergraduate student at Ursinus.

She recently received the Red Cedar Award, given to the author of the best original research paper by a third-year doctoral student in economics at Michigan State University. The paper examines the impact of tuition subsidies on college enrollment decisions.

Acton’s interest in the economics of education dates to her time at Ursinus, where she majored in math and business and economics and earned distinguished honors for research she conducted under the mentorship of Ursinus faculty members Jennifer VanGilder, an associate professor of business and economics, and Nick Scoville, the Joseph Beardwood III Chair of Mathematics and an assistant professor of mathematics and computer science.

“In my honors thesis at Ursinus, I studied how persistence rates in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) majors vary by demographic characteristics and academic backgrounds,” Acton writes. “This piqued my interest in the economics of education, especially topics related to college access, and introduced me to the tools economists use in the type of empirical research I am doing now. Moreover, having the opportunity to work one-on-one on research with faculty gave me hands-on experience in every stage of the research process, which has proven invaluable in my doctoral studies.”

While at Ursinus, Acton also minored in statistics and took advantage of a host of extracurricular and enrichment opportunities. She was captain of the gymnastics team, served as a CIE (Common Intellectual Experience) Fellow, and participated in Summer Fellows research. She was honored with membership in Phi Beta Kappa, the Compton-Rose Prize (given to two outstanding seniors in the Business and Economics department), the Senior Alumni Award (given to a graduating senior who shows great promise), and the Olive Sargeant Hamm Award (given to a senior woman who excels athletically, socially, and academically).

At Michigan State, Acton has focused her studies on labor and public economics as well as the economics of education.