Panel Paper: The Effect of the DC School Voucher Program and the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program on College Enrollment and Graduation

Friday, November 9, 2018
Wilson B - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Matthew Chingos and Daniel Kuehn, Urban Institute

Recent research on statewide private school choice programs in Indiana, Louisiana, and Ohio has found those programs have a negative effect on student test scores, at least in the early years of student participation. But little research exists on whether participating in a private school choice program affects long-term outcomes, such as college enrollment and degree attainment. This study examines the effect of two private school choice programs, the Washington, DC Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) and the Florida Tax Credit scholarship (FTC), on college enrollment and graduation.

The DC OSP, the only federally funded voucher program in the United States, has provided private school scholarships to low-income students in DC since 2004. The program is small, but it has received significant attention in national debates over private school choice and has been the subject of rigorous evaluations mandated by Congress. We measure the effect of the OSP by comparing the college enrollment rates of students who were offered a scholarship in lotteries held in 2004 and 2005 with those of students who applied but did not win a scholarship. Students who won scholarships to attend private schools were not significantly more or less likely to enroll in college than students who did not.

The FTC scholarship is the largest statewide private choice program in the United States. We estimate the effects of the FTC on the rates at which students enroll in and graduate from public colleges and universities in Florida. We compare the outcomes of more than 10,000 low-income students who entered the program between 2004 and 2010 with outcomes of students with similar characteristics and test scores who never participated in the FTC program. We find that participating in FTC has substantial positive impacts on the likelihood that students enroll in a public college in Florida. Participation in the FTC program increases college enrollment rates by 6 percentage points, or about 15 percent. Almost all of this effect occurs in community colleges (as opposed to four-year universities), which are more financially accessible to the low-income students participating in FTC and are where most Florida students begin their postsecondary education. These positive impacts on enrollment in community colleges are tempered by modest impacts on the share of students who earn associate degrees. This result is only partly explained by the fact that graduation rates of low-income students in community colleges are generally low.

The FTC helps get students into college, but too many still fail to earn degrees. A fuller understanding of what this means for these students will require continuing to track their outcomes, including bachelor’s degree attainment rates and incomes. But this research shows that policymakers considering the design, expansion, or reform of private school choice programs should carefully consider not just their likely impact on short-term metrics such as test scores, but also how they might shape long-term outcomes, including college enrollment and graduation.