Does higher education change an individual’s political attitudes and behaviors? Despite myriad studies on this topic, we lack reliable evidence that isolates the causal effect of university education on ideology and participation from bias due to non-random selection into higher education. We identify this effect by leveraging quasi-random variation in university graduation created by entry tests for upper-level secondary schools used in Switzerland. Comparing otherwise similar citizens who, as pupils, narrowly pass or narrowly fail their school entry test, we find that attending and completing a university track moves citizens to the left. Our attitudinal measures encompass both left-right self-positioning and policy preferences, suggesting a comprehensive effect on attitudes. Further analyses show that the ideology effects are larger for more right-wing citizens. We also find that university education increases both formal and informal participation, and that this effect is particularly large among those that already participate at high rates. Overall, our findings confirm the conjecture of previous, correlational studies that university education has a causal effect on political attitudes and behavior.
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