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The Effects of School Vouchers on College Enrolment: Experimental Evidence from New York City

Higher Education, Vouchers

Matthew M. Chingos and Paul E. Peterson

The Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings
Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance

Executive Summary

Most research on educational interventions, including school vouchers, focuses on impacts on short-term outcomes such as students’ scores on
standardized tests. Few studies are able to track longer-term outcomes, and even fewer are able to do so in the context of a randomized experiment. In the first study using a randomized experiment to measure the impact of school vouchers on college enrollment, we examine the college-going behaviour through 2011 of students who participated in a voucher experiment as elementary school students in the late 1990s. We find no overall impacts on college enrolments but we do find large, statistically significant positive impacts on the college going of African American students who participated in the study. Our estimates indicate that using a voucher to attend private school increased the overall college enrollment rate among African Americans by 24 percent. The original data for the analysis come from an experimental evaluation of the privately funded New York School Choice Scholarships Foundation Program (SCSF), which in the spring of 1997 offered three-year scholarships worth up to a maximum of $1,400 annually to as many as 1,000 low-income families with children who were either entering first grade or were public school students about to enter grades two through five. A recipient could attend any one of the hundreds of private schools, religious or secular, within the city of New York. According to the New York Catholic archdiocese, average tuition in the city’s Catholic schools, the city’s largest private provider, was estimated to be $1,728, which was 72 percent of the total per pupil cost of $2,400 at these schools (compared to total costs of more than $5,000 in the public schools).

The impetus for the voucher program was an invitation issued by Cardinal John J. O’Connor, Archbishop of New York, to Rudy Crew, Chancellor of the New York City public school system, to “send the city’s most troubled public school students to Catholic schools” and he would see that they were given an education. When New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani attempted to raise the funds that would allow Catholic schools to fulfill the offer made by the Cardinal and enroll the “most troubled” students, his proposal encountered strong opposition from those who saw it as a violation of the First Amendment’s establishment clause. As the controversy raged, a group of private philanthropists created SCSF, which announced that it would cover a portion of the costs of the private education of eligible students. SCSF gave students a choice of any participating private school in New York City. It offered a chance to win a scholarship to all elementary students from low-income families who were currently attending public schools in grades 1 through 4 or about to enter first grade.

SCSF asked an independent research team to conduct an experimental evaluation of the impact of the intervention on student achievement and other outcomes, such as school climate and school quality, as identified by responses to questions asked of the adult accompanying the child to the testing session. To participate in the lottery, students other than those who had yet to begin first grade were required to take a standardized test. While students were taking the test, the parent or other adult accompanying the child provided information verifying eligibility and filled out detailed questionnaires that posed questions about the child’s family background and the current school the child attended. Crucially, all families were asked to supply identifying information for each child applying for a scholarship, including name, date of birth, and social  security number.
The original evaluation of the SCSF program estimated impacts on student test score performance. We extend that evaluation by estimating impacts of the offer of a voucher on various college enrollment outcomes: 1) enrollment within three years of expected high school graduation; 2) full-time enrollment within three years; 3) enrollment in two-year and four-year colleges; 4) enrollment in public and private colleges; and 5) enrollment in selective colleges.

Information on college enrollment available from the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) is linked to student identifiers and other data collected at the time when students who applied for an SCSF scholarship attended sessions where eligibility was confirmed. Almost all colleges and universities in the U.S., representing over 96 percent of all college students, submit enrollment information on their students to NSC. The NSC provides participating institutions with enrollment and degree verification services as well as data for research purposes.
Voucher applicants were matched to NSC records using social security number (SSN), name, and date of birth. Because identifying information was collected prior to the inclusion of applicants in the lottery and because NSC has such an extensive database, the attrition problems that have plagued school choice evaluations in the past are almost entirely eliminated. Of the 2,666 students in the original study, the information needed to match the data was available for 2,642, or 99.1 percent of the original sample. We focus on enrollments within three years of expected high school graduation, because the most recent enrollment data available are for fall 2011, a date when the youngest cohort was just three years from their expected graduation date.

To read more, click: http://www.hks.harvard.edu/pepg/PDF/Impacts_of_School_Vouchers_FINAL.pdf

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