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School Vouchers And College Enrollment: Study Finds No Significant Effects Except For Black Students

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The offer of a voucher to attend private school in New York City had little overall effect on college enrollment, according to a study by researchers Matthew M. Chingos and Paul E. Peterson. Findings did indicate, however, that black students who won a voucher to attend private school in the city were 24 percent more likely to attend college.

For their analysis, Chingos and Peterson relied on original data from an experimental evaluation of the privately funded New York School Choice Scholarships Foundation Program, which in the spring of 1997 offered three-year scholarships worth up to $1,400 annually to as many as 1,000 low-income families with children who were entering first grade, or were public school students about to enter grades two through five.

Those who received vouchers could attend any one of the hundreds of private schools -- religious or secular -- in New York City. Vouchers, in an effort to increase school choice for families, are typically awarded to lower-income students stuck in struggling or failing public schools and can't afford to go to private ones.

The study estimated impacts a voucher offer would have on various college enrollment outcomes, including enrollment within three years of expected high school graduation, full-time enrollment within three years, enrollment in two-year and four-year colleges, enrollment in public and private colleges and enrollment in selective colleges.

The study focused on enrollments within three years of expected high school graduation because the most recent college enrollment data available was for fall 2011 -- when the youngest voucher recipients were three years from their expected graduation date.

In total, the study involved analysis of 2,642 students who applied for vouchers from the scholarship fund. Of that number, 1,363 won vouchers through a lottery.

Overall, the authors found no significant effects of a voucher on college-going rates, though they did find evidence of large, statistically significant positive impacts on black students, and fairly small but statistically insignificant impacts on Hispanic students.

A voucher offer increased the overall -- part-time and full-time -- enrollment rate of African Americans by 7.1 percentage points, a 20-percent increase. If the offered scholarship was actually used to attend private school, those numbers increased to 8.7 and 24, respectively.

Similar results were obtained when looking at full-time college enrollment.

Among black students who did not win a scholarship, three percent attended a selective four-year college. That number increased by 3.9 percentage points if the student received a voucher offer.

Overall, a voucher offer was estimated to have increased college enrollment within three years of a student’s expected high school graduation date by only 0.6 percentage points.

The study is being criticized by the National School Boards Association, with Executive Director Anne Bryant claiming, "The grandiose statements made in the executive summary are not substantiated by the data."

According to Jim Hull, senior policy analyst for NSBA's Center for Public Education, 22 percent of the students who were granted a voucher through the New York scholarship program never used it, and most returned to public schools for reasons unknown -- some after the first or second year.

The same day their study was released, Chingos and Peterson wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal calling on the Obama administration to support the voucher program for students in Washington D.C.

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