Inequality in access to higher education has become a pressing concern in Chile and many other developing countries in Latin America. With the existence of large barriers for access to higher education for poorer students, the study examines relevant questions by gathering evidence from Chile.
The context of Chile serves as a good case study as its access to higher education is assigned through a standardized test (a SAT-like test called Prueba de Seleccion Universitaria) that is shown to be strongly correlated with students' socio-economic backgrounds.
The study investigates the impacts of test preparation on access to higher education using experimental evidence from a randomised controlled trial. Scholarships are randomly offered to secondary school students from low or middle-income households (attending subsidised schools) with above average academic performance and who have applied for the programme. The scholarship is for attending a high quality test training institution.
Website : http://www.preuniversitariouc.cl/
Are financial constraints a relevant barrier for test preparation?
Is test preparation effective in increasing standardised test performance and, if so, in increasing access to higher education?
This is a randomised experiment designed to evaluate the effects of offering scholarships for high-quality test preparation to high achieving students. The study looks at the impact on test outcomes and entry to higher education in Chile.
Theory of change
In Chile, as in other developing countries, universities'particularly the leading universities'are heavily subsidised by the state. In a system where entrance exams heighten the problems of unequal access to higher education, those with the resources to make initial investments intest-training receive substantial returns and end up being the main beneficiaries of highly subsidised university education. If access to tutoring for the test distorts the supply of students into higher education (so that better-off, but potentially less-able students access the best universities) it will reduce the efficiency of human capital accumulation.
This is relevant, not only in Chile, but also elsewhere in the developing world where governments must facilitate a process, usually through the importance placed on entrance exams, of rationing a limited supply of quality universities.
The study uses a randomised experiment design that assigns treatment across eligible applicants to the scholarships which allows comparison of the average outcomes of the treatment and the control group. Additionally the study uses instrumental variables (IV) estimation in order to measure the impact of attending a top pre-university programme on the same outcomes. First, it estimates the intention to treat effect to measure the direct impact of the scholarship offer. Second, by employing IV estimation it identifies a local average treatment effect for students of the scholarship programme on increasing the probability of attending a top university programme. The study further estimates regressions including interactions between treatment and school quality level for examining heterogeneous effects.
The main finding is that under regular circumstances (i.e a year with no students' protests), the offer of the scholarship had no significant impact on students' results. Interestingly, receiving the offer of a scholarship led students to substitute school work with preuniversitarios (private institutions dedicated to test preparation) work and overall there were no gains on students' performance. However, in the year with students' protests, where students suffered the consequences of lost school days due to the protests, the scholarship offer had sizable impacts.