Education Opinion

Voucher Usage and College Enrollment

By Walt Gardner — August 27, 2012 1 min read
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The voucher wars will undoubtedly heat up once again as a result of a new study finding that black students in New York City who used a voucher lottery to attend private schools were 24 percent more likely to enroll in college than black students who didn’t win a voucher lottery.

Paul E. Peterson and Matthew M. Chingos tracked 1,363 students who received vouchers through the New York School Choice Scholarship Fund. Unlike many other voucher studies, the latest compared students who won a voucher lottery with students who didn’t. Therefore, the only difference was “the luck of the draw, the gold standard in research design” (“A Generation of School-Voucher Success,” The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 23). In other words, all students in the study came from families that were similarly motivated (“N.Y.C. Study Finds Vouchers Boost Blacks’ College-Going Rates,” Education Week, Aug. 23).

What to make of the findings? It’s impossible to know if similar results would be reported in other cities. I think they would if the same protocol were followed, but until I see further evidence I’ll reserve judgment. However, what is far more important in my view is that the study did not determine the percentage of black students who graduated from college. There’s a big difference between applying to college and graduating. I stress that point because the nationwide college graduation rate for blacks is 43 percent (“Black Student College Graduation Rates Inch Higher But a Large Racial Gap Persists,” The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, Winter 2007). This compares with 63 percent for whites.

It’s heartening to know that college applications for black students are rising. But many students are not prepared to do the work once they are admitted. As a result, they drop out, burdened with non-dischargeable student loans. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, only 46 percent of students overall complete college (“Why Do So Many Americans Drop Out of College?” The Atlantic, March). Only when data show that the percentage of graduating black students has risen is it time to celebrate.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.