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Is Stanford Good Enough for Your Child?

Tatiana Melguizo
School of Education
Stanford University
March 2002


I am a researcher studying economics of education. In my field we use themethods developed by economists to analyze problems in education. I am particularly interested in researching how certain college characteristics influence minority college graduation. I would like to identify what are certain types of institutions doing that seems to work particularly well for minorities. Since students' earnings increase substantially once they've completed their degree in order for minorities to benefit fully from their higher education they need to graduate.

There has been a persisting gap between college graduation of white students and that of African American and Hispanics. Although the enrollment rates of minority groups has increased substantially in the last three decades their graduation rates remain substantially lower than that of whites. Some researchers consider this gap to be the result of differences in student's ability, parental education, income and high school preparation. Other researchers think that it is also related to specific characteristics of colleges. They found that minorities are more likely to graduate at certain types of colleges especially historically black colleges and selective or research institutions.

In my research I am interested in identifying the impact of a wider set of institutional characteristics on minorities and white students. For example, given that minorities are usually over-represented in low income households, are their graduation rates higher at institutions where they are more likely to get a grant? Also, given that minorities usually come with lower academic preparation from high school, are these under-prepared minorities better off at selective institutions? Or, are they better off attending a two-year education first and then transferring to a selective four-year institution? In other words are minorities substantially better off at Stanford rather than at a community college that could enable them to enter to Stanford later on? Identifying the impact of the institution characteristics is rather tricky because institutions select students with certain characteristics that make them more likely to graduate. In this sense the admission process makes it rather difficult to identify whether institutions are simply selecting students or if they are actually providing a good learning environment for them to develop the skills and graduate. This problem is known in the literature as a self-selection problem. This means that good students self-select themselves into selective institutions where they are more likely to complete. But as some studies have found these students could do equally well both in terms of graduation and future earnings at a non-selective institution. To the best of my knowledge no study so far has used this correction to identify the "true" impact of institutional characteristics on minority college graduation.

There are two national longitudinal surveys of high school senior students in 1982 and 1992 that provide all the data necessary for this type of analysis. These surveys provide detailed information on several student and institutional characteristics during high school and while in college. I would use these data to do the analyses necessary to answer to the previous questions. I expect to find that research selective institutions work better for minorities who have average high school preparation. Given that minorities who get into selective institutions usually have to adapt to a substantially different environment, if their academic preparation is just below average and they have institutional support, they are likely to succeed. On the other hand minorities who have a substantially low high school preparation would be better of at a two-year institution that would give the basic preparation and the support and orientation needed to transfer later on into a four-year institution. Finally, minority student's who have the average high school preparation could be better of at Historically Black college or Hispanic serving institutions were their peers have similar characteristics and they don't have to go through all the changes implicit in attending a traditionally white selective institution. These insights will help university administrators and policy makers to identify minority students that could succeed in their institutions. This have a positive impact in terms of increasing the diversity in college while increasing the graduation rates of the students admitted. Finally, critics of Affirmative Action will find rather difficult to continue to argue against this policy saying that in any case minorities are not likely to graduate. And hopefully selective institutions would use more than just the SAT scores of minorities in their admission process. This will not only help them identify minorities that could be a better match for their institution but would also help them admit a more diverse population of students.