(Nevada News Bureau Staff) – A major study of a school voucher program operating in the country of Chile for the past 29 years has found both an increase in high school graduation rates and an increase in the number of students going on to college.
A preliminary draft of the lengthy study, performed by researchers from the University of Nevada, Reno, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Chile, was released today.
Along with other school decentralization efforts, education reforms implemented in 1981 included making Chile the only country in the world to have a nationwide school voucher program.
The study looked at students who began school in the early 1970s all the way up through students who began school in the early ‘90s. It shows that the reforms increased high school graduation rates by 3.6 percent and increased college-going rates by 3.1 percent.
The reforms also increased the rate of those completing at least two years of college by 2.6 percent and the rate of those completing at least four years of college by 1.8 percent.
Sankar Mukhopadhyay, assistant professor of economics at UNR and a co-author of the study, said that while there have been quite a few studies on the possible effects of school vouchers on grades and test scores, there has been very little research conducted on the possible effects of school vouchers on the level of education attained by students, or on employment and earnings.
“I think this study provides very interesting, new information for those considering school vouchers,” Mukhopadhyay said. “I think these results will surprise some people; the results actually surprised us.”
Mukhopadhyay and the research team drew their information from nearly 4,000 people, ranging in ages from 6 to 45.
The study also found that the voucher program significantly increased the demand for private subsidized schools and decreased the demand for both public and nonsubsidized private schools.
In addition, although opponents of school voucher programs have long theorized that vouchers would mostly benefit the rich, this study showed that individuals from poor and non-poor backgrounds in Chile, on average, experienced similar educational attainment gains under the voucher program. There was also a modest reduction in earnings inequity once the voucher reforms were enacted. Overall however, the reforms did not lead to increased overall average earnings.
The reforms reduced the number of people ages 16 to 25 in the workforce by about 2 percent because more people were staying in school longer, Mukhopadhyay said.
“So the earnings benefits of having greater educational attainment were at least partly offset by the delay in entering the workforce.”
The study will be published in its entirety in the inaugural issue of a new journal published by the Econometric Society, Quantitative Economics, in August. The co-authors of the study are Mukhopadhyay; David Bravo, economics professor at the University of Chile; and Petra Todd, economics professor at the University of Pennsylvania.