Study: School Choice Program Had Positive Effect On College Enrollment Rates

Amber Randall | Civil Rights Reporter

A Florida private school choice program had a positive effect on low-income students’ enrollment rates in colleges, a September study revealed.

The Urban Institute released a study on the Florida Tax Credit (FTC) Scholarship program, the largest private school choice program in the country. The study was the first to measure a statewide school choice program. It found that students who enrolled in private schools as part of the scholarship program had higher enrollment rates in college than their peers in public schools.

“What this study shows is that, at least for a big statewide school choice program, the average effects on college enrollment were not negative. They were in fact, positive,” researcher Matt Chingos told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “How positive are they depends on how much you want to hang your hat on the enrollment rates, which were quite positive, versus the associate degree attainment results, which were smaller.”

Participants of FTC had 15 percent (6 percentage points) higher enrollment rates in community college, regardless of when they entered the program. Forty-five percent of students who enrolled in FTC in elementary or middle school attended college, versus 39 percent of their peers who did not join the FTC program. High school saw higher results for the students–48 percent of those who began FTC in high school went to college, while only 42 percent of non-FTC high school students did.

“We find that participating in FTC has substantial positive impacts on the likelihood that students enroll in a public college in Florida,” the researchers noted. “Almost all of this effect occurs in community colleges (as opposed to four-year universities), which are more financially accessible to the low-income students participating in FTC and are where most Florida students begin their post-secondary education.”

The researchers measured 10,000 low income students who entered the FTC program from 2004-2010 against similar students who never attended the program. The FTC is a scholarship program that gives private school scholarships to students from low income households (first defined as families making 185 percent less than the federal poverty level).

Students who participated in the program for four or more years saw even greater improvements in college enrollment rates. The study also noted that while FTC showed higher enrollment rates in community college, the program didn’t seem to have a noticeable effect on whether the students attained an associates’ degree.

“These positive impacts on enrollment in community colleges are tempered by modest impacts on the share of students who earn associate degrees. This result is only partly explained by the fact that graduation rates of low-income students in community colleges are generally low,” the study said.

The study noted some caveats to its methodology, pointing out that researches were only able to study enrollment rates in public Florida colleges. They suggested studying the students for a longer period after they graduated college.

“But if attending a private school through FTC increases the likelihood of subsequently attending a private college, as national data suggest is the case, the restriction of the outcomes data to public colleges would imply that the estimated effect of FTC participation is understated,” researchers said.

Chingos currently has other studies looking at the effects of college enrollment and college graduation in Washington, D.C. ,and Milwaukee, Wisc., in the works, and he plans to do more research on the FTC program.

“We’re also hoping to do more research on the Florida program and try to continue to track these kids. It was too soon for most kids to see whether they got a bachelor’s degree. And we were only able to look in the Florida data at kids going to an in-state public college in Florida. That should catch about 80 percent of kids,” Chingos told TheDCNF. “We might think that kids who go to private schools are more likely to go to private colleges, so we would miss that in the data.”

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