Reimbursement programs boost college enrollment for Black students
At least according to one in-depth study, the controversial school voucher program — the initiative that allows parents and caregivers the option of transferring their student from a low-performing or persistently dangerous school to a better one, and reimbursing them the costs of such a transfer — has proved to be a success.
The findings included in the study, “The Effects of School Vouchers on College Enrollment: Experimental Evidence from New York City,” — authored by Matthew M. Chingos and Paul E. Peterson via a collaboration between the Brown Center on Education at the Brookings Institute and Harvard University’s Kennedy School Program on Education Policy and Governance — will lend credence to the arguments put forth by proponents of the voucher system here, since New York City’s public school network shares many similarities to the School District of Philadelphia.
In Pennsylvania, legislators have made it much easier to apply for and receive vouchers, as Pennsylvania Department of Education Secretary Ron Tomalis recently announced several methods in which parents can obtain the voucher. State Rep. Dwight Evans has also been a longtime proponent of school choice, and has supported the voucher initiative for nearly two decades.
“In the first study using a randomized experiment to measure the impact of school vouchers on college enrollment, we examine the college-going behavior through 2011 of students who participated in a voucher experiment as elementary school students in the late 1990s,” read, in part, the summary of the study. “We find no overall impacts on college enrollments 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.”
This study used a data set provided by the New York School Choice Scholarships Foundation Program, which in 1997 began to cover $1,400 scholarships for 1,000 low-income/at-risk families with children entering public schools. Families could use those scholarships to attend any private school within New York City.
The average annual cost of attending a NYC-based Catholic school is $1,728, according to the study; that scholarship would cover more than 70 percent of the base tuition.
“A voucher offer is shown to have increased the overall enrollment rate of African Americans by 7.1 percentage points, an increase of 20 percent. If the offered scholarship was actually used to attend private school, the impact on African-American college enrollment is estimated to be 8.7 percentage points, a 24 percent increase,” read the study’s summation. “Similar results are obtained for full-time college enrollment. Among African Americans, 26 percent of the control group attended college full-time at some point within three years of expected high-school graduation. The impact of an offer of a voucher was to increase this rate by 6.4 percentage points, a 25 percent increment in full-time college enrollment. If the scholarship was used to attend a private school, the impact was about 8 percentage points, an increment of about 31 percent.”
The study also looked at the African-American educational landscape without the voucher program, and the numbers were sobering. Only 3 percent of all African-American students who did not use a voucher attended a selective four-year degree granting program, but that number would have jumped to 6.9 percent if those students chose to use the voucher.
The report found there were no significant gains amongst Hispanic students who utilized the vouchers, with the study proposing that other mitigating factors were involved in the disparity in voucher use between African-American and Hispanic students.
“We find suggestive evidence that educational and religious reasons may explain the different findings for African-American and Hispanic students. Although it would be incorrect to say that educational objectives were not uppermost in the minds of respondents from both ethnic groups,” read the study. “African-American students were especially at risk of not going on to college, and families sought a private school — even one outside their religious tradition — that would help their child overcome that disadvantage. Hispanic students were less at risk of not enrolling in college and likely sought a voucher for some combination of religious and educational benefits.”
Officials with the Black Alliance for Educational Options, a national non-profit education think tank with offices here and in six other cities, praised the study, noting that it reflects the need for the further investment of resources in Black education.
“This study is showing America what we’ve known for years — that school voucher programs work when they are designed and managed correctly,” said Black Alliance for Educational Options Board Chairman Dr. Howard Fuller. “And they create pathways for young Black children to attend high-performing schools that they otherwise would not have the opportunity to attend.”