Welcome to the Profit of Education website. Continuing the conversation begun in the book Profit of Education, we discuss the latest economic evidence on education reform.

University finances and COVID-19: Different schools, different risks

My most recent post on the BROWN CENTER CHALKBOARD at the Brookings Institution.

COVID-19 puts higher-ed finances at risk. For some universities, revenue shortfalls are going to be a pain—for other universities the shortfall may be a disaster. Public universities face three major sources of revenue risk: hospital revenues, tuition (both from overall enrollment and with special attention to enrollment of out-of-state students), and state funding. The bottom line here is going to be that the exposure of different schools to these risks is extremely variable. When it comes to the financial consequences of COVID-19, there’s no one-size-fits-all impact.

To get a picture of the financial landscape, I use publicly available IPEDS data that gives a snapshot of finances for most American universities. This has two implications: First, you can grab a useful report about any school you are interested in; second, the data is not nearly as good as the information institutions have internally. Because of the latter, we’ll look at overall patterns across universities—but not name names. Note that I am leaving out two-year schools, which have different patterns than four-year schools, and private schools, which use an entirely different set of accounting standards. Public institutions grant two-thirds of all bachelor’s degrees; my data covers institutions with about two-thirds of public university undergraduates.

In what follows, we look at the variability in university exposure to specific financial risks.

HOSPITAL REVENUE RISK

Hospital revenues fell dramatically as elective procedures ground to a halt. This matters for higher-ed finances because many of the country’s top hospitals are affiliated with universities. Hospitals churn through huge amounts of money; that doesn’t mean that they make a profit, but it does mean that hospitals are sometimes the big financial gorilla on campus. (In some universities, medical center finances are tied into overall finances; at other schools, the medical side finances are kept pretty segregated.) In aggregate, hospital revenues are about 15% of total college revenues. However, what’s really going on is that major medical centers are an enormous fraction of the budget at a few schools, while most public universities don’t have a hospital at all. Only 35 of the 491 schools for which I have data have hospitals, but the schools with hospitals are also relatively large—accounting for 10% of the students.

The graph below shows the number of students in those schools that do operate hospitals against the ratio of hospital to total operating revenue. On this graph—and on the graphs that follow—universities on the left are at relatively low risk while universities on the right are at high risk. From the horizontal axis, it’s clear that a major fraction of revenues comes from hospitals at these schools, generally over 40%. From the vertical axis, we learn that the schools with hospitals are large, generally with over 10,000 students. The bottom line is that hospital revenues are a concern only at a handful of schools—but those are big schools facing a potentially big problem.

Figure1 Number of students vs ratio of hospital to total operating revenue

ENROLLMENT REVENUE RISK

Right now, every university is worried about enrollment, both how many students decide to enroll now and whether there will be unusual “bleed” over the summer. How much of total operating revenue comes from tuition? It’s all over the map. Different kinds of universities face different risk profiles. To see this, we’ll separate universities according to the highest degree they offer (doctorate, master’s, bachelor’s). Because they are of special interest, I also look at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

Figure 2 Enrollment revenue risk

At the big-picture level, tuition revenue is a very large chunk of total operating revenue; thus, a significant drop in enrollment would be quite bad. Bachelor’s-level and master’s-level universities are noticeably more exposed to enrollment risk than are doctoral-level universities. HBCUs are somewhat less exposed than bachelor’s- and master’s-level universities in general.

The real news, though, is that there is great heterogeneity in exposure within every category. There are doctoral-level universities with hardly any revenue from tuition (the ones underlying the bars to the left)—so they face little risk from enrollment fluctuations—and there are doctoral universities where operating revenue mostly comes from tuition dollars (the ones underlying the bars to the right). The same high level of heterogeneity is true for the other three university categories.

What the graph doesn’t show (because the federal government doesn’t collect the data) is the incredible heterogeneity within universities. For example, there are master’s programs in STEM and business that rely almost entirely on tuition revenue from international students. If international students don’t enroll—visa offices are still closed and the appeal of online courses under current circumstances is unknown—such programs may be at great risk. There are going to be some very interesting internal discussions inside universities about who’s subsidizing whom.

OUT-OF-STATE STUDENT ENROLLMENT REVENUE RISK

On top of worries about enrollments in general, many public universities are really, really worried about a drop-off in out-of-state students. There are two, maybe three, issues here. First, out-of-state tuition is generally higher (a lot higher) than in-state tuition. Out-of-state students subsidize in-state students; if they don’t come, there’s a special financial hit. Classes at many universities will remain online (at least partially) through the fall. For example, the largest state-university system, California State University, has said nearly all classes will be online. So, the second issue is that no one knows whether out-of-state students will be willing to pay premium tuition for online classes. Maybe they will, but no one knows. Finally, it’s starting to look like international students who are not already in the U.S. won’t be able to get here by fall. This might—or might not—mean a huge drop in the number of high-tuition-paying international students attending American universities.

The following chart gives the fraction of tuition that comes from out-of-state students, based on undergraduate tuition only. (And with a few behind-the-scenes assumptions, because the data isn’t perfect.)

Figure 3 Out-of-state student enrollment revenue risk

Here too, there is enormous heterogeneity. Most of the students at bachelor’s-level institutions are at schools that are at most modestly dependent on out-of-state tuition. In contrast, many doctoral-level schools are very dependent on out-of-state tuition. (At some doctoral-level schools, the majority of students are from out of state.) Master’s-level schools are somewhere between bachelor’s- and doctoral-level schools in this respect. The HBCUs are rather like the doctoral-level schools. I suspect this reflects the fact that many doctoral schools and HBCUs are national draws, while others are less so.

STATE SUPPORT RISK

One reason some public universities rely so heavily on out-of-state students is that states made deep higher-education funding cuts in the wake of the Great Recession. Whether there will be even further cuts depends in part on what happens in the future with federal stimulus money, but universities are certainly anticipating there will be further serious cuts in state support. The next chart shows state support as a fraction of total revenues. (I’ve used total rather than operating revenues because states provide support for costs other than operations.)

Figure 4 State support risk

When it comes to state support, doctoral universities are somewhat less vulnerable than other schools on average; although “somewhat less” is somewhat less than reassuring, since state support is still pretty important. And again, we see great heterogeneity within each class of school. Some schools can manage even with significant cuts in state support. Others will be out of business—literally.

RISKS OVERALL

Are there universities where hospital revenue, tuition revenue, and state support—even taken together—don’t make up a large enough fraction of total revenue to put the institution at much risk? As the next chart shows, unfortunately no.

Figure 5 Overall risk

The overall picture suggests there are very few students whose universities do not face significant financial risk. Universities in the bachelor’s and master’s categories are even worse off than doctoral universities and the HBCUs. As the charts above show, the sources of risk do vary across categories: For example, bachelor’s- and master’s-level institutions are typically less vulnerable to drop offs in out-of-state students than are doctoral institutions and HBCUs, but bachelor’s and master’s-level universities face greater risk from overall enrollment declines and are somewhat greater risk from state budget cuts.

What’s the bottom line? In one sense, we don’t know. We don’t know the future course of the pandemic. We don’t know how adjusting instruction in the face of the pandemic will affect student enrollment. We don’t know where state budgets will land.

But there are two things we do know. First, nearly every school is at least at some risk of significant financial losses. Second, the risks are incredibly different at different schools. Many schools face difficulties. If things turn out really bad, some schools face closures.

I am grateful to UCSB undergraduate and Gretler Fellow Dylan Schmerer for research assistance and to my accounting colleague, Susan Grover, for explaining the intricacies of university financial reports.

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Coronavirus poses serious financial risks to US universities

My most recent post on the BROWN CENTER CHALKBOARD at the Brookings Institution.

Universities around the country are dealing with health concerns as their first priority, and keeping instruction going—even if imperfectly—as the second priority. After dealing with these immediate issues, the next concern is fear of collapsing revenue. Health and instruction deserve every bit of effort going into them. The extent of worry about collapsing revenue isn’t justified, at least not yet, though it could be soon. If lockdowns end before the fall, the financial hit will be somewhat painful. On the other hand, if the health crisis is not resolved by fall, university finances could be in real jeopardy.D

Let’s start with the first message, which should be encouraging if things end relatively quickly. COVID-19 hit partway through the spring semester for schools on the semester system, which most schools are on, and just before the beginning of spring quarter for schools on the quarter system. Almost all revenues for the term are already in. Schools may have a small number of students dropping the current term and not making payments. I have seen several reports for quarter-system schools of enrollment drops on the order of 1%. Also, some schools are refunding small amounts of fees. Some are giving partial rebates or credits for student housing. New Jersey has cut current state funding to public universities, as has Missouri. All these are revenue hits, but as of right now, they’re mostly pretty small.

Perhaps the largest immediate risk to universities is the impact on summer school enrollments. Institutions offering summer programs can’t wait until the end of spring for more clarity on the pandemic to decide on how they move forward, and many will likely be smaller than otherwise. Though only a minority of students usually stay on campus during summer, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that colleges could still lose several hundred million dollars this summer.

Set against the revenue loss, there are some small savings from not running a physical facility. The savings are generally not large. In addition, the federal stimulus package includes $14 billion in aid for higher education. Total university revenues are on the order of $700 billion, meaning the stimulus package will replace roughly 2% of total revenue. That’s enough to help, but it isn’t likely to cover all losses.

In other words: If COVID-19 is just a nasty memory at the end of spring, then university budgets will be okay. On the other hand, if COVID-19 continues through the summer and into the fall, finances could get much worse. Maybe even much, much worse.

It is useful to think through which revenue streams are at risk. A reminder that while we can get ballpark estimates for universities in aggregate, each individual university will face somewhat different circumstances.

Where are the big risks? Which is to say, which are the big sources of revenue that might be vulnerable? I’ve isolated the major revenue sources for public and private (nonprofit) universities. In both cases, I’ve eliminated revenues from university hospitals on the grounds that hospital budgets are basically separate from the rest of the academy, even though hospital revenues are significant (approximately 11-13% of revenue) and hospitals are currently undergoing major revenue losses due to postponement of elective procedures.

The figure below shows the four major revenue sources for public universities, with smaller categories combined into the “all other sources” category.

Together, these four categories account for 72% of total public university revenue. The analogous breakdown for private universities is a bit different, with five factors accounting for 87% of revenues.

For both publics and privates, the largest single revenue source is tuition. The slice marked “auxiliary enterprises” is also student-linked because it includes student housing and dining. If campuses are still physically closed next fall, revenue from auxiliary enterprises will take a big hit.

What about enrollment and the tuition payments linked to enrollment? The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on a survey of university presidents, “The vast majority of presidents, 84 percent, anticipate a drop in enrollments, both for new and returning students.” This may be true, as online education just is not the same as in-person instruction. And if we continue to be in a recession, money will be short. On the other hand, when unemployment goes up, young people may choose to continue their schooling rather than look for a non-existent job. (One suspects there isn’t much hiring in the retail and service sectors at the moment—delivery gigs excepted.)

An enrollment surge was certainly noticeable during and immediately after the Great Recession. To get a ballpark estimate, I regressed college enrollments (in logs) on the unemployment rate and a time trend. A one-point increase in the unemployment rate is associated with a 1.6% increase in enrollment. If we continue to be in a recession, past data suggests a big increase in enrollment. However, historical data like this did not come with closed campuses due to pandemics, so history may be an unreliable guide.  But it is at least possible that enrollment will actually increase.

Federal grants and appropriations are important for both public and private schools. These do not seem to be in danger of being cut. In fact, the stimulus package includes $1.25 billion in additional research money, much of which is likely to end up in universities. (Although most of the research money will probably go to research universities that are not in the greatest financial danger.)

The other important revenue categories are different for publics and privates. For private universities, current gifts and return on endowment are especially important. While thinking about what will happen to philanthropy is tough at the moment and thinking about what will happen to the stock market is always close to hopeless, universities usually smooth out fluctuations in endowment revenue. Being concerned about the stock market is reasonable, but despite the recent wild ride, panicking is not called for. To put it differently, on the day I write this the S&P 500 is up 18% over the last three years. Most universities survived quite nicely with their endowment levels three years ago. Moreover, the truth is that most universities don’t rely much on their endowments; the ones that do are generally the universities that are well enough off to weather any storm. Three-quarters of all endowment dollars are in just 120 institutions. In fact, 20% of all endowments are held by the eight Ivy League schools.

At public universities—like the one I teach at—state support is a critical issue. (This is also true at the K-12 level, as demonstrated by a recent Chalkboard post from Marguerite Roza.) Cuts in state funding could be really serious. Here’s a picture of state appropriations (which is most, but not all, of state support), combined with the unemployment rate and with the Great Recession shaded. During and following the Great Recession, it’s clear that state appropriations dropped precipitously. Higher unemployment means lower state tax revenues and higher demands on state spending.

I did a quick regression on state appropriations against the unemployment rate going back to 1995. It suggests that when the unemployment rate goes up, nothing much happens that year, but that appropriations the following year fall dramatically—something like 2.8% for each point of unemployment. Some caution is called for here because state appropriations are a political decision, rather than an economic decision. This time might be different.

In summary, nothing terrible has happened to finances yet. But it could, and that depends critically on how long campus closures persist. The biggest risks come from cuts in state funding and a potential drop in enrollment. And it’s going to be a while before we know where finances are going to land.


The author is grateful to UCSB undergraduate and Gretler Fellow Dylan Schmerer for research assistance.

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Coronavirus will harm America’s international students—and the universities they attend

My most recent post on the BROWN CENTER CHALKBOARD at the Brookings Institution.

With the growing outbreak of COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus, universities around the U.S. are canceling in-person classes, clamping down on travel, and sending students home. Protecting the health of students and staff, and limiting community transmission, is the most important priority.

After taking care of emergency measures, universities need to be making administrative and financial decisions over the next few weeks that depend on projections about what’s going to be happening three to six months from now. Economists call this “dynamic programming,” but that’s just a fancy name for thinking ahead. While there are many issues that require thinking ahead, here I’m going to focus specifically on issues involving international students, and the complications that arise due to international travel restrictions imposed indefinitely to counter the further spread of the coronavirus.

Before we begin, where are the international students?

Figure1_International enrollment as a percentage of total enrollment

The chart shows the number of international students—college students who are neither American citizens nor resident aliens studying in the United States—as a fraction of total enrollment. The figures here are based on undergraduate, full-time enrollment for fall 2018, and reflect approximations rather than exact numbers. While there are some a few states with few international students, international students make up a substantial part of total enrollment in much of America. They constitute over 5% of enrollment in the majority of states, and that share is especially high in D.C. and Massachusetts.

Let’s now look ahead to the beginning of the upcoming fall term, about six months from now. Will the coronavirus be under control? Will international travel restrictions be lifted? We all hope so, but there’s no real way to know. Will COVID-19 be over by the beginning of the summer term? Hopefully yes, but probably no. What are the time-critical decisions that need to be made in advance of resolution of the pandemic?

  • Graduate admission reply date (April 15): Graduate schools in the U.S. nearly uniformly require students to reply to acceptance letters by April 15. (Some professional schools are earlier.) It might be wise to offer students a later commit date, but because graduate admissions generally do not involve a financial deposit, this is probably not that important.
  • Undergraduate admission reply date (May 1): Colleges almost always require undergraduates to commit to a school by May 1. Some financial deposit often is required, and students make a psychological commitment as well. By May 1, there is virtually no chance that students in other countries will know whether they will be able to come to the United States in the fall. (For example, American consular services in China are shut down. No one knows when applications for student visas will be accepted.) It might be very wise to make an upfront offer to refund student deposits if travel is still restricted in the future. Colleges could also provide other options, such as online classes until students can safely come to the U.S., or a promise that admissions can be deferred.
  • End of spring term: What happens to the visa status of international students who graduate this spring? The issue is that it may not be wise—or safe—for students to return to their home countries this summer. Given travel restrictions, it might not even be possible. (You may have read about the Italian tourists in Ethiopia whose visas have expired and who are refusing to leave Ethiopia—which they feel is now safer than Italy. Now multiply that problem by hundreds of thousands of international students.) The general rule is that students must leave the country within 60 days after graduation (with some exceptions for students doing Optional Practical Training, or OPT). Universities cannot extend visas. But they should be intermediaries asking the federal government for extensions and keeping students informed. If extensions are not forthcoming, maybe universities need to be offering options for students to retain student status by continuing to take courses and delaying graduation.
  • Summer school: This one cuts both ways. Most years, summer programs are very attractive to international students who want to try out the United States temporarily. Schools had better be planning for no students showing up from abroad this summer. On the flip side, there may be many current international students who would ordinarily go home during the summer who will be staying here this year. That might increase attendance, and perhaps the need for dorm space. And for that matter, universities may want to provide housing for international students who can’t go home this summer irrespective of whether they are taking summer courses.

Finally, there’s one more important consideration: What happens to university budgets if international students all stay home? Unlike the issues above, there are not many decisions to be made before we have an idea if international enrollments are going to plummet. Nonetheless, it is worth knowing how exposed budgets are to the downside risk of these travel restrictions.

All international students disappearing is a worst-case, very unlikely scenario. But just as a baseline, I’ve put together approximate numbers on how exposed colleges are in each state.

Nationwide, the amount of tuition plus required fees from international students tops $2.5 billion. California has over $400 million at risk; New York over $300 million; Massachusetts over $200 million. Only Alaska and Wyoming appear to have under $1 million dollars at risk, and even in those states the risk is just barely under $1 million.

One way to look at which states have major exposure is to look at the fraction of total tuition payments coming from international students. The next chart shows the percentages.

Figure2_Percentage of tuition from international students

Tuition from international students is above 5% of total tuition in every state. In Massachusetts, New York, California, and Washington, D.C., the fraction is about 20%. This is not just an issue for coastal locations, though, as this share is above 10% in 30 states.

The high fraction of tuition coming from international students reflects both the fact that there are many international students and the fact that, at least in public universities, international students pay nonresident tuition rates. Nonresident tuition rates at the University of California, for example, are two-and-a-half times the rate paid by Californians. What’s more, most schools offer far less financial aid to international students than to domestic students. In that sense, the numbers reported here understate the true impact on net tuition.

I offer two suggestions for policymakers outside colleges. First, if the federal government is going to be making bailout loans, include universities on the list. Second, state lawmakers should add helping out campuses to their COVID-19 response to-do list.

The majority of any lost tuition revenue will be at public colleges. And I can tell you that, at least at the University of California, administrators are taking whatever steps are needed to protect the health of the campus and the surrounding communities—even if so doing raises costs and cuts revenue. Help is going to be needed to minimize the financial damage to higher education programs in the coming months.

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The achievement gap in education: Racial segregation versus segregation by poverty: What would Dr. King say?

My most recent post on the BROWN CENTER CHALKBOARD at the Brookings Institution.

“In elementary schools, Negroes lag one to three years behind whites, and their segregated schools received substantially less money per student than do the white schools.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, 1967

“[W]hite students score an average of 1.5 to 2 grade levels higher than black students in the average district.” – Reardon, et al., 2019

Dr. Martin Luther King is celebrated today as a civil rights leader and one of the great orators of the 20th century. He was also a keen commentator on social issues—one who believed in bringing scientific research to bear on such issues. King linked questions of race and class as well. In this light, I want to discuss new research about the impact of segregation on today’s education achievement gaps. Surprisingly, this evidence strongly suggests segregation’s effect on current racial gaps are largely due to segregation by poverty, rather than segregation by race. There is some complexity to this finding that requires some explanation, but first, some reminders of history.

King fought first to eliminate de jure racial school segregation, which at the time was largely a Southern phenomenon. Before and during the civil rights movement, the “equal” part of “separate but equal” was essentially a fraud. As an example, a study by the NAACP that examined Georgia school spending in the 1920s reported per pupil spending of $4.59 for Black students as compared to $36.29 for white students. In the Northern states, racial disparities in school funding were also common. In the 1960s, King wrote:

“Statistical evidence revealed in 1964 that Chicago spent an average of $366 a year per pupil in predominantly white schools and from $450 to $900 a year per pupil for suburban white neighborhoods, but the Negro neighborhoods received only $266 per year per pupil.”

Times have changed. Times have improved. De jure segregation is gone, although schools remain de facto segregated to a large extent. According to a new study by Reardon, Weathers, Fahle, Jang, and Kalogrides on segregation’s effects on racial achievement gaps, segregation reached its peak in 1968, declined through about 1980, and has remained more or less stable since then. In other words, it has been four decades since progress toward more integrated schools flat-lined. There has also been much progress toward equalized spending. This finding comes from a current study on racial spending differences: “Black … total per pupil expenditures exceed White total per pupil expenditures by $229.53.”

However, care is required in interpreting “equal spending” for two reasons. First, we mostly know about spending at the district level and not how the spending is divided up among schools within a district. Second, as Reardon, et al., write, “[H]igh-poverty schools typically have greater financial needs, given their larger shares of students identified as needing special education services and their often larger shares of English Learner students.”

So, as indicated in the opening quotes, while racial achievement gaps have been reduced since the days of King’s campaigns, the remaining gaps are still large. There are many reasons for persistence in the achievement gap, including that the legacy of separate and unequal may cause segregation in the past to have continued effects today. Looking directly at today’s situation—how important is today’s segregation per se? Black students mostly go to school with other Black students. Black students also mostly go to school with low-income students. Do either of these forms of segregation contribute to the racial achievement gap? The new work by Reardon, et al., “Is Separate Still Unequal? New Evidence on School Segregation and Racial Academic Achievement Gaps,” suggests that it is primarily poverty segregation rather than race segregation that accounts for segregation’s effect on the achievement gap.

The authors use a massive dataset that covers achievement in grades 3-8 in about half the school districts in the United States; notably, these districts include 96% of all Black public school students. The outcome variable studied is the Black/white achievement gap on test scores in math and English language achievement. (The results discussed below are for third graders.) The central question studied is the extent to which the achievement gap is explained by four differences in the average experience of Black versus white children measured by exposure to: minority schoolmates; poor schoolmates; minority neighbors; and poor neighbors.

The authors control for the usual measures that help explain the achievement gaps, and then focus on segregation per se. So the authors are telling us how much segregation matters over and above other differences that explain achievement.

The authors’ first result is that differences in exposure to minority schoolmates appears to matter a lot—if taken alone. According to my calculations using the authors’ reported outcomes, a one standard deviation increase in this measure accounts for about 9% of the total achievement gap. If exposure to minority neighbors is accounted for, the effect is even a bit larger, with the effect of schoolmates being about twice as large as the effect of neighbors. In other words, the apparent effects of racial segregation are pretty much what you’d expect.

But the authors point out that schools are also highly segregated by income level, specifically by the fraction of students living in poverty. And measures of racial segregation and “poverty segregation” are highly correlated. (Depending on the exact measures used, the reported correlation coefficients are between 0.82 and 0.93.) Is the apparent effect of race really an effect of poverty? According to the authors’ work, yes.

The authors repeat their analysis including both exposure to minority schoolmates and exposure to poor schoolmates. The effect of exposure to minority schoolmates completely disappears, while a one standard deviation increase in the Black/white gap in exposure to poor schoolmates explains about 10% of the total achievement gap. The evidence, then, is that differences in exposure to poor schoolmates rather than differences in exposure to minority schoolmates are what matters.

Finally, a horse race is run in which all four factors are included. Having minority schoolmates still doesn’t matter and having poor schoolmates still does matter. There is a small effect of exposure to minority neighbors and no effect of exposure to poor neighbors.

In summary, the authors find that the role of segregation in explaining today’s racial achievement gap comes from the fact that Black students are much more likely to go to schools with impoverished classmates, and not from the fact that they go to largely Black schools.

To be clear, this does not mean that poverty is the only thing that matters, and that race is now inconsequential. Notice that about 90% of the racial achievement gap is still unexplained in the authors’ model, meaning there’s still plenty of room for race to be impacting gaps through other policy differences both inside and outside of the classroom. Even more important, integrating by income can significantly reduce achievement gaps—and this will also mean integration by race, due to the strong relationship between the two.

If King were still alive today, would he agree that the consequences of segregation, in part, have more to do with poverty than with race per se? We can’t know, of course, where King would have come down on the question of race versus income segregation. But there is no doubt that he believed the problems were inextricably linked. (In fact, King linked solving the problems of racism to societal changes that uplifted all people.) Take this quote from a talk King gave in 1967:

“Let us turn first to the evil of racism. There can be no gainsaying of the fact that racism is still alive all over America. … The second evil that I want to deal with is the evil of poverty. Like a monstrous octopus it spreads its nagging prehensile tentacles into cities and hamlets and villages all over our nation. Some 40 million of our brothers and sisters are poverty stricken, unable to gain the basic necessities of life. And so often we allow them to become invisible because our society’s so affluent that we don’t see the poor. Some of them are Mexican Americans. Some of them are Indians. Some are Puerto Ricans. Some are Appalachian whites. The vast majority are Negroes in proportion to their size in the population.”


Note: Most quotes attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. throughout this post are from King’s book, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community,” originally published in 1967 by Harper & Row.

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Advice matters: Faculty advisers and college student success

My most recent post on the BROWN CENTER CHALKBOARD at the Brookings Institution.

Academics and policymakers are actively looking at creative ways to help college students succeed. While increasing college access and enrollment is an important first stage, too many students matriculate but fail to thrive. Bluntly, too many never graduate.

Like most faculty, I have many informal “advising conversations” with undergraduates. I like to think these conversations do some good. I’d never thought much about whether formal advising systems do much and whether they can contribute to overall student success. But there is now some solid evidence that good advising makes a real difference.

Authors Serena Canaan, Antoine Deeb, and Pierre Mouganie offer a very nice piece of work in “Advisor Value-Added and Student Outcomes: Evidence from Randomly Assigned College Advisors.” (In the interest of full disclosure, I like to brag about have a slight conflict of interest regarding two of the authors: Canaan is a UCSB alumna and I’m currently a member of Deeb’s dissertation committee.) The authors use data from a natural experiment at one university to show that good advising can really matter.

First, a little background about college advising offers some context. About half of U.S. colleges have freshman advised by full-time faculty, accounting for more than three-quarters of all new undergraduates. Interestingly, the use of faculty as advisers varies among type of institutions. Most baccalaureate-granting institutions use faculty, but research universities tend to have a professional advising staff. (Faculty serve as official advisers at only about a fifth of research universities.)

Before looking at the papers’ details, here are some of the headline results (see Figure 1 below). A one standard deviation increase in the estimated value-added of the freshman-year adviser:

  • Increases freshman GPA by 5.7 percent of a standard deviation.
  • Increases 4-year graduation rates by 2.5 percentage points.
  • Increases the probability of high-ability students enrolling in and graduating from a STEM major by 4 percentage points.
Figure 1. Effect of Higher Adviser Value-Added on College Student Outcomes

These effects of having a good adviser are meaningful; not huge, but remarkable considering the relatively few interactions that most advisers have with undergraduates.

What makes these estimates so convincing is that the data comes from a natural experiment that eliminates a common weakness seen in many value-added studies. The data is sourced from a university in which students are randomly assigned to advisers; thus, the estimated relationship here is causal, which is a high bar for most other studies to clear. (The administrative assignment process is intentionally random, and the authors ran statistical checks that show the randomization worked.) In most studies of student outcomes, we worry that we are missing some unobservable factor that is correlated with what we’re studying; a teacher having a class in which more parents than usual buy outside tutoring for their child would be an example that could compromise estimates. Random assignment eliminates such concerns.

The university involved in the study was the American University of Beirut (AUB), which raises a question of what scientists call “external validity;” in other words, do we think the results are relevant to the typical American college? The answer is “yes.” A little background about AUB explains why. AUB was founded by American missionaries in 1866. Classes are taught in English and AUB degrees are registered with the New York State Board of Regents. Enrollment is around 7,000 students and admissions depend mostly on SATs and grades—average SAT scores look a lot like average American SAT scores. As the authors put it, “AUB is comparable to an average private nonprofit 4-year college in the United States.”

The results cited above demonstrate that, on average, good advising is valuable. The researchers then delve deeper and find is that the results are heterogeneous—having a good adviser is more important for some students than for others and who benefits most is situational. Improvements in freshman-year GPA are larger for high-ability students than for low-ability students, though both groups gain. There is not a noticeable difference by student gender.

Also, top advisers are more likely than others to guide their students into selective majors (STEM and business). This is especially true for high-ability students, defined as students entering with SAT scores in the top quartile. It appears that these results reflect pointing top students to STEM majors and a smaller effect for students being pointed to business, where the increase in entering a business major is also true for students with lower SAT scores.

The authors investigate the mechanism for the various improvements. What they tease out from the data suggests that freshman-year advisers are particularly good at helping students get good freshman-year grades. (By the way, good advisers don’t steer students into easy courses—the authors checked.) These higher grades likely increase student confidence, leading to better performance later on, and directly increase the chances of making it into a selective major.

Improving college student achievement and graduation rates has become a major concern. In the U.S., only about a third of college students complete their four-year degree within four years at public institutions, and about half do so at private nonprofits. The results from this study suggest that more or better faculty advising might be a promising avenue to improve these numbers, although it’s obviously important to ask where the needed resources will come from. It’s worth noting in this regard that AUB had a student/faculty ratio of 11, while the U.S. ratios are about 15.5 at public institutions and 10.2 at private nonprofits. Arranging more and better faculty advising would be beneficial, as this study shows, but would be especially challenging at large public universities. In light of the numbers above showing that large universities rely on staff rather than faculty for advising, it’s worth remembering that the authors of this study don’t make comparisons between faculty and staff as advisers. So, while we’ve learned that having a good faculty adviser makes a big difference, more research will be needed to know if having a good staff adviser would have the same effect.

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Community college ‘free-for-all’: Why making tuition free could be complicated

My most recent post on the BROWN CENTER CHALKBOARD at the Brookings Institution.

Presidential candidates are pushing for “free” community college for all; Douglas Harris described some of the early details here on the Chalkboard earlier this year. Greater access to community college is a clearly overdue policy for reasons we also talked about here in July, and it’s worth thinking through some of the details. (As an aside, some candidates propose four years of free college, others that college should be “debt-free.” We’ll leave discussion of those proposals for another day.) Currently, we have no national policy on community college attendance: States have very much gone their own ways. Policy diversity has some definite advantages. But things are so different across states that making community college free nationwide is going to be tough—implementation details are going to require some thought.

Here’s the first issue: Some states have chosen to go all in on community colleges, while other states do very little. Will this be a political problem? Will politicians from states with low community college attendance be reluctant to support subsidizing students in other states? Hopefully not, as states with low community college numbers today are also the states with the greatest likelihood of growing their attendance. What’s more, community college attendance doesn’t follow a simple red state/blue state pattern.

Right now (well, per the latest data from the Digest of Education Statistics in 2017), 22% of community college students are in California—which has 12% of the nation’s population. Another way to say this is that 33% of college-aged folk in California attend community college, as compared to a national average of 20%. Here’s a chart showing that same two-year school enrollment as a fraction of the college-aged population across states.

Figure 1 - Fraction of college aged population enrolled in public 2-year colleges

The other states that look something like California in this regard are pretty small in terms of population. (New Mexico and Wyoming actually have a higher ratio than California.) Texas, though, is a large state that is also well above the national average. Arizona, Iowa, and Virginia are also high. The state that stands out on the low end is Florida.

A complicating wrinkle in thinking about free community college is that the boundaries between community college and four-year schools are sometimes blurred. In some states, some bachelor’s degrees are offered by community colleges. (This may account for the low two-year enrollment reported for Florida.) Does that mean free tuition would not be covered in such schools? Or does it mean that a bachelor’s degree is covered if offered by a community college, but not if the same degree is offered in a “four-year school”? In some states, this is a big issue. In other states, the issue doesn’t arise. But it’s one more complication that will require careful thought and quite likely careful political negotiation.

A second issue is that states charge very, very different tuition levels. Compared to the status quo, very different subsidy levels will be needed across states to achieve zero-tuition nationwide. The national average annual tuition at public two-year colleges is $3,200. California is way below that. Texas is relatively low as well.

Figure 2 - In-state tuition and required fees at public 2-year colleges

Here, too, the breakdown is not especially red versus blue, which probably helps with the politics. Nonetheless, some thought will be required to figure out how to cover tuition both in New Hampshire, where the current price tag is $7,300, and in California, which charges $1,300.

Some of the proposals for free tuition include a requirement for cost-sharing by states. States currently differ significantly in how much they spend per student, raising a third issue. I’ve calculated total expenditures on public two-year colleges and subtracted off tuition. The national annual average is $6,100. (Note: While I’m confident that states vary wildly in what they spend, don’t put too much weight on the numbers for a particular state. Also, the latest data is three years old, though that probably shouldn’t matter much.)

Figure 3 - Expenditures in public 2-year colleges less tuition

Mississippi spends almost $11,000 above tuition costs, while Virginia spends only $1,500. The situation is made more complicated by the fact that costs of real estate, construction, salaries, etc., vary so much across states. Simple formulas about cost-sharing may be difficult to reconcile with varying levels of existing contributions. (By the way, picking up the cost of tuition will increase total spending on community colleges by about a third, very roughly. Of course, free tuition will increase demand for community college—that’s kind of the idea, after all—which will further raise the required level of funding.)

Looking ahead, some thought should be given to how states will respond strategically to various proposals. For example, Joe Biden’s plan calls for “the federal government covering 75% of the cost and states contributing the remaining obligation.” (Fellow candidates Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, and Amy Klobuchar also call for free community college, while Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren would extend free tuition to four-year public colleges as well.) Right now, California is a low-tuition, high-expenditure, high-participation state. Should California raise its $1,300 tuition to the $7,300 in Vermont— thus increasing tuition revenue—and then contribute a fourth of that ($1,825) to keep tuition free while the federal government contribute three-fourths ($5,475)? Students won’t care, since one government or another is picking up the tab. The extra revenue from Washington, D.C., would free up a lot of money that California is now using to subsidize its very large community college system.

The admirable goal of a federal program is to make community college available to Americans wherever they live. If that happens, we are likely to see community college within reach of a much greater number of students across the country. That will itself diminish the differences that exist today, but not on day one. Figuring out the details is going to require some good technocrats. And on the political side, there should be considerable appeal across both red and blue states. Perhaps this might be a good venue for bipartisan cooperation.

None of this is an argument against the federal government finding a way to make community college tuition-free. It is an argument that figuring out the details will take some work.

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Free college for all Americans? Yes, but not too much.

My most recent post on the BROWN CENTER CHALKBOARD at the Brookings Institution.

Promising free college has obvious political attraction for presidential candidates. From my perspective, free college is the right idea, but some of the promises go too far; in fact, exactly twice too far. There is a very strong argument for promising two years “free” at public colleges; the argument for a four-year free ride—not so much.

In a nutshell, my argument is that America has long supported free K-12 education and that two years of college is pretty much what K-12 used to be, with most Americans now obtaining at least some college education. For most people, getting some college is the key to the middle-class—creating a case for public support during the first two years after high school.

Douglas Harris has a great Chalkboard post that will bring you up to date on what candidates have said, and will give you many of the pros and cons for various higher education proposals. Harris also talks about popular support for different proposals in another Chalkboard post. Here, I’m going to stick to the narrower question of why paying for two years of public college is the right goal.

In the picture that follows I present educational attainment numbers for the American population from 1950 through the most current data. I’ve divided the population into those with a high school education or less, colored in red, those with some college but less than four years, blue, and those with four or more years of college, colored in green. (The category “some college” includes vocational training such as certificate programs at community colleges as well as more purely academic courses.

The vertical axis shows the fraction of the population with a given educational attainment—categories are stacked at each point in time to sum to 100%.

You can see that in the early post-war years, most Americans had no more than a high school education. Today the majority has picked up at least some college. I’ve also drawn in a line at the 50% point on the theory that the middle is “middle class.” Up until about 1990, the median American had a high school education or less. That’s fallen to about a third, and the median American now has some college. So “some college” has replaced high school or less as the standard educational attainment. If it made sense in the past to provide free public education through high school, then doing the equivalent today means paying for some level of college. Note that the green (4+ years of college) area is still way, way above the 50% line. Only about 30% of the population currently attains that much education. So such an appeal to the past does not provide an argument for four years of free college.

ed attainment over time

There are many motivations for increasing education, but probably the strongest is that it leads to better jobs and higher incomes. The next figure links educational attainment to income, plotting median income in each educational group against the overall national income distribution. In “the old days,” the median person in both the high school or less and the some college categories earned near the middle of the national income distribution. That’s still true for “some college.” The middle person with some college education gets to be right in the middle of the national income distribution. But getting to the middle is now much more difficult for those in the “high school or less” category. The middle person in the bottom group reaches just above the bottom third of the national income distribution. So in terms of income, “some college” has replaced “high school or less” as the middle-class norm.

median income

Some presidential candidates propose free community college, others advocate that all public college should be free. One reaction to the latter position is that we shouldn’t be subsidizing college graduates as they typically end up with higher incomes than the rest of the population. Look at the green line in the figure above. Not only does the average person with four or more years of college have a higher income than most people—they have a much higher income. You can argue that the 70th percentile of income is still middle class. (In the United States, it seems that everyone below the top 0.1% thinks of themselves as being in the middle class.) But the fact is that the income in the top educational attainment group is a lot higher.

The argument that “some college” is the new “high school” and should be similarly free makes sense to me, but this logic doesn’t extend to a free ride for four years.


Data from census and American Community Survey from IPUMS USA, University of Minnesota, www.ipums.org.

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Los Angeles Times Op-Ed

Me in the LA Times on raising teacher pay.

https://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-startz-teacher-raises-20190417-story.html

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As more women graduate from college, the teaching profession becomes more female

My most recent post on the BROWN CENTER CHALKBOARD at the Brookings Institution.

One of the great accomplishments of the late 20th century was to bring women onto a more equal footing in the labor market. Salaries became more equal. Employers opened up jobs for women. Educational opportunities became more gender-equal. And for college-educated women, all of this meant that careers outside teaching and nursing became possible.

One might think that as more career paths opened—even if not opened all the way—increased alternatives would have meant relatively fewer women in teaching. In fact, that is not what happened. As we celebrate Women’s History Month, we look at how one of the very few historically female-dominated professions has become even more so. Here, I briefly describe what did happen and offer my explanation as to why.

Unlike with most jobs, teacher salaries have long been based on a schedule that minimizes opportunities for discrimination. Little matters for salary other than years of experience and level of education. (Oh yeah, and whether you teach in a district with high or low salaries.) So women and men get almost equal pay. In the most recent available data, base pay for female teachers was 96 percent of the pay received by male teachers. Even if you include extra school pay above the base level (for extracurricular activities, coaching, and a few other things), women still earn 93 percent of what men earn. High school teachers get paid somewhat more than elementary school teachers, and men are more likely than women to teach at the secondary level. But women teachers have slightly more education than men do.

While the gender pay gap has not yet been fully eliminated, it is smaller for teachers than in most of the economy. As a rough comparison, in “management, professional, and related occupations,” the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that women earn 73 percent of what men earn. While a large majority of teachers are women, a majority of these management and professional workers are also women. The difference in the wage gap is much smaller in teaching, making teaching especially attractive to women.

What about in the not-so good old days? It’s hard to get exactly comparable data, but reports from the 1970 census suggest the male-to-female earnings ratio for year-round workers with four years of college was 55 percent. (Something else from the old days: the reports are all separated by race. The 55 percentage is for whites only.) In contrast, teaching salaries have been approximately equal by gender, although not perfectly equal. The earliest year for which I was able to track base teaching salaries was 1987, when the salary gender ratio was 0.89.

In other words, women’s and men’s teaching salaries have long been almost equal. Outside teaching, earnings are far less equal—but they’re a lot closer together than they were in past decades. So what would you expect to happen to the relative number of women and men in teaching over this period? It used to be that few opportunities outside of teaching were available and women had equal-ish pay, which incentivized talented women to go into the classroom. Now with a more open world, the incentives for women to teach are lower, so relatively fewer will become teachers and the gender balance in teaching should become somewhat more equal.

At least that’s what I thought. It turns out that I was wrong and, in fact, the opposite has happened. Here’s a picture of the proportion of female teachers over time.

teachergender
Source: The Current Population Survey via IPUMS USA, University of Minnesota, www.ipums.org. Additionally: The National Center for Education Statistics’ Schools and Staffing Survey via The Department of Education.

The green line tells the real story. The share of teachers who are women rose, not fell, over the past three-plus decades. The proportion rose quite a bit through some time in the 1990s and then has edged up a bit more since.

Now some more explanation about the graph. The solid lines are taken from the Current Population Survey (CPS)—a representative survey of the U.S. population—and look only at full-time teachers. The dots are taken from the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), which is a survey of teachers only and does not reach back quite so far. The SASS trend is also upward, but somewhat less dramatically so.

We can split out a few more details using the CPS data. The blue line at the top shows the female share for elementary school teachers: unsurprisingly, heavily female. The percentage moved up some through the 1980s, then back down a little. Overall, it has been pretty flat over time. Elementary school teachers are overwhelmingly women, both historically and today.

The orange line at the bottom tells us the real change in the female share is in secondary school. Teaching secondary school used to be a majority male occupation, and today a solid majority of secondary school teachers are women. Notably, the majority of math and science teachers in grades nine through 12 are women. Probably a small piece of the story as to why women’s share in teaching has risen rather than fallen is that secondary school teaching jobs have become more open to women.

Here’s what I think is going on: While it’s true that the relative attractiveness of teaching versus other careers has declined for women versus men, there has been an enormous increase in the number of women with the basic required education to be a teacher—a bachelor’s degree. The picture below shows what happened over the last 40 years; the ratio of bachelor’s degrees going to women relative to men has risen by 60 percent. In other words, the greatly increased number of women in the qualified labor pool for teaching overwhelms any effects of changed incentives of teaching relative to other professions. (Ingersoll et. al. provide a very readable report on these and other trends in the teacher workforce; also see the nice summary in the Atlantic.) From an economics point of view, it is interesting that the quantity effect dominates the incentive effect.

bawomen2men
Source: The National Center for Education Statistics’ Schools and Staffing Survey via The Department of Education.

We should also ask whether it matters for the kids if their teachers are women or men. Hopefully, you already have a good idea of the answer, because Michael Hansen and Diana Quintero reviewed the evidence last July right here on the Chalkboard. Here’s the nickel summary:

“It is not clear that the plethora of females in the teacher workforce is worrisome in most circumstances—more female teachers may even be preferred in math and science classrooms.”

But I’d place one big caveat on the conclusion that teacher gender doesn’t matter. Most of what we know about the effects of teacher gender are about what happens in K-12. As you’ve seen in the chart above, there has been a massive change in college attainment of men versus women—and though everyone looks at four-year degrees, the change in associate degrees is just as large.

Interestingly, the large increase in the fraction of college degrees going to women is a worldwide phenomenon. And perhaps not coincidentally, women as a fraction of the teaching force has increased in other developing countries as well.

Fraction of women in teaching force in developed countries

Primary

Lower Secondary

Upper Secondary general

Upper Secondary vocational
OECD 2016836962
56
OECD 1996755750
42

The table shows the increase in the fraction of teachers who are women in the OECD. (Note that the comparison is not perfect, as the set of countries included changed a bit over these two decades.) What we see is that the change in the teacher gender ratio—including in secondary school—is not just a U.S. phenomenon.

The “coincidence” of a shift to relatively more women going to college during a period in which students also had relatively fewer male teachers is interesting. One possibility is that high school boys are in need of male role models to keep them on track to college. Another possibility is that it’s the decline in discriminatory barriers that has led to both more women teachers and to more women going to college. Evidence on how much either explanation contributes to the changes we’ve seen will have to await further research.

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Equal opportunity in American education In memory of Martin Luther King Jr.

My most recent post on the BROWN CENTER CHALKBOARD at the Brookings Institution.

Today would have been Dr. Martin Luther King’s 90th birthday had he not been taken from us in 1968. Whatever position one takes on how to deal with America’s racial issues, most people of goodwill ascribe to the idea of equality of opportunity in education. I want to look today at a number of indicators of educational opportunity.

I emphasize educational opportunity, as distinct from educational outcome. Outcomes depend on opportunities offered by schools, on backgrounds that students bring through the school room door with them, and on choices made by those students. I will begin by reviewing a bit of what is known about differences in outcomes, in part because some differences by race are shockingly large. But let me be frank about why I will largely focus on equality of opportunity: There remain a number of people who want to blame the disadvantaged for their situation, and who do so increasingly openly. Consequently, I think it is important to identify circumstances where disadvantage cannot be attributed to the disadvantaged.

I wish to note three background items before we begin. First, the Equality of Opportunity project, led by a team of scholars at Harvard University, offers a wealth of data and analysis on inequality along many dimensions. Second, ProPublica has a nice piece on disparities in outcomes written by Lena V. Groeger, Annie Waldman, and David Eads. Third, I am going to limit my analysis to black/white differentials rather than looking at all disadvantaged groups. Partially this is for simplicity and partially as a reminder of the struggles led by Dr. King. (Though I suspect Dr. King would not agree with my narrow focus.)

LARGE GAPS IN OUTCOMES PERSIST BY RACE

Let’s begin with two quotes about findings from the Equality of Opportunity project, as discussed by Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren. First, “The black-white gap is not immutable: black boys who move to better neighborhoods as children have significantly better outcomes.” What’s more is that the researchers are explicit that “environmental conditions during childhood have causal effects on racial disparities, demonstrating that the black-white income gap is not immutable.” The focus here on the Brown Center Chalkboard is education, but as we move on please remember that the educational system is not the only place there are inequities. As Chetty and Hedren write, “In 99% of neighborhoods in the United States, black boys earn less in adulthood than white boys who grow up in families with comparable income.”

While schools are not all that matter, let’s talk about some of the ways that schools do matter. Here is a graphic from ProPublica showing the achievement gap between black and white students across the nation.

ProPublica Miseducation
Source: ProPublica’s “Miseducation” project.

The big visual differences are in the South (still!), which is where Dr. King mostly fought. But the disparities are not just in the South. In LA Unified, the second largest school district in the nation, ProPublica reports, “Black students are, on average, academically 3.1 grades behind White students.” In Chicago, the gap is three grades. (ProPublica lets you check out your own local schools as well.)

Achievement gaps depend on opportunities inside school walls, and also on which groups end up being advantaged by those opportunities. ProPublica looked explicitly at racial gaps in participation in Advanced Placement and gifted programs. If a student isn’t enrolled in one of these programs, she or he can’t very well benefit from the program. Here’s the picture from ProPublica.

ProPublica's "Miseducation" project.
Source: ProPublica’s “Miseducation” project.

Again the South stands out, but, again, it’s not just the South. In NYC—the nation’s largest school district—white students are two-thirds more likely to be enrolled in AP courses than are black students.

OPPORTUNITY GAPS UNDERNEATH THE OUTCOME GAPS

Still, one could argue that the differences in enrollment in these advanced opportunities reflects something that students bring into school rather than the opportunities that the schools make available. To nail the point that inequality of opportunity is an issue, I want to look at issues of availability. To be pointed, if a student attends a school that doesn’t even offer an AP course, it’s pretty clear that the gap issue is one of opportunity rather than student choice.

A central issue, of course, is that black and white students don’t attend the same schools. To a great extent, schools remain de facto separate. (For discussion, see Chalkboard posts hereherehere, and here.) The most recent Department of Education Office of Civil Rights data collection reports information from almost 25,000 high schools (defined for our purposes as schools including a 12th grade). About 15 percent of students are black, but 40 percent of black students are in majority-black schools, and only 24 percent of black students attend majority-white schools. There was a time when many thought “separate but equal” was viable. Are opportunities in our still largely separate schools now equal?

Only 36 percent of high schools where the majority of students are black offer a calculus course. In contrast, 60 percent of majority white schools offer calculus. It’s hard to see how this makes for equal opportunity.

As a practical matter, to take calculus in high school—assuming it’s available in your high school—it helps to have gotten a head start on earlier math courses. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights asks schools whether Algebra 1—normally a ninth grade course is available to seventh or eighth graders. This head-start offering is available in 42 percent of majority-black schools as compared to 66 percent of majority-white schools. An alternative comparison sounds not quite as bad (but still not good): 77 percent of white students are in schools offering early algebra while the corresponding number gets up to 64 percent for black students.

Perhaps I am hung up on the importance of math courses. After all, I am an economist, and in economics and other STEM fields, getting an early start on calculus before going to college is awfully valuable. But math isn’t everything. Let’s look at a couple of more general indicators.

The vast majority of teachers in the United States are certified. But schools that are disproportionately black have a noticeably disproportionate share of teachers who are not certified. Sometimes that’s intentional. Some uncertified teachers come through Teach for America or a school district academy and perform well. Of course, schools that receive Teach for America teachers are typically pretty disadvantaged in a variety of ways. So whether you think that uncertified teachers are less qualified or you just think that the presence of uncertified teachers is a signal that the school environment is more challenging than where you’d like to send your kids … well, neither is good. Here’s the figure showing the relation between the fraction of students in the school who are black and the fraction of teachers who are not certified. The relation between student race and teacher certification is quite clear.

It is a well-established fact that brand new teachers do not teach as well as teachers with more experience (on average, that is). Being a classroom teacher is just a very, very hard job that requires practice. Educational opportunities are therefore better for students assigned teachers who are not just starting off. Who is more likely to get a rookie teacher?

Here’s a figure showing the fraction of teachers in a school in their first year against the fraction of the students in the school who are black. Students in schools that are under 10 percent black have about 6 percent first-year teachers. In schools that are 90 percent or more black, that fraction doubles to almost 12 percent.

EQUAL OPPORTUNITY STILL ELUDES US

We all know that educational outcomes—test scores, high school graduation, college attendance, school discipline, and so on—differ by race. Some part of those differences reflect what students bring to school. But the data above also shows that the opportunities offered black and white students have not yet become equal. Dr. King’s dream of equality of opportunity sadly remains, in the words of Langston Hughes, “a dream deferred.”

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