Study: Vouchers Boost African American College Enrollment

Published September 6, 2012

A new, “gold standard” study finds black students who receive a voucher for elementary education are 24 percent more likely to attend college.

Researchers Paul Peterson of Harvard University and Matthew Chingos of the Brookings Institution analyzed data gathered in the 1990s in New York City, when more than 20,000 elementary school children vied for School Choice Scholarships Foundation vouchers. A lottery determined 1,300 recipients who received half-tuition vouchers to their school of choice.

African-American voucher applicants and recipients were found more likely to enroll in college, whether they used the entire scholarship amount or not, reaffirming a plethora of studies pointing toward vouchers as a key aspect of education reform and student success.

Voucher Students Learn More
By matching voucher applicants’ Social Security numbers to National Student Clearinghouse college enrollment data, Peterson and Chingos determined a mere voucher offer increased likelihood of college enrollment among African Americans by 20 percent. If not offered a voucher, only 36 percent of black students attended college.

With a maximum cost of $1,400 per student per year and an average usage of 2.6 years, the benefits of the New York City vouchers far outweighed the cost, the researchers noted.

High Cost to Dropouts
Extensive research has demonstrated high school dropouts cost their neighbors and diminish their own quality of life.

“[Dropouts] tend to migrate to welfare programs, they wind up on public assistance, they have high rates of unemployment, and unfortunately they have higher rates of incarceration than people who attend good public schools and live in good neighborhoods, so this study isn’t really surprising,” said Susan Meyers, spokeswoman for the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.  

In Montana, researchers estimated the state gains $32,402 per individual who graduates and a great reduction in Medicaid spending. A 2010 study found African American male high school dropouts in Oregon were five times more likely to be incarcerated than their graduating counterparts.

‘Best Study We Have’
A larger voucher program might have better effects because it might exert more pressure on public schools, Chingos said.

“When you give children and parents an opportunity to escape a failing environment … they have a chance to not only flourish but to graduate high school, attend college, and make something of their lives,” Meyers said. “That is a winning ticket for their lives, society, and taxpayers.” 

Image by FonnaTasha.