Seems like a good SAT score and a stellar high school GPA aren’t the only factors when it comes to getting into college for Massachusetts students. It turns out that attending preschool makes a real difference in deciding to enroll or not. Researchers from MIT find that four-year-olds attending public preschools in Boston from 1997 to 2003 were 18 percent more likely to go to college right after high school than those that did not attend preschool.
There was also a 5.4-percent increase in college attendance among former preschoolers.
Demand for public preschools continues to increase
As of 2019, 44 states provide publicly-funded preschool programs, including 24 of the 40 largest U.S. cities. The enrollment rate of four-year-olds has jumped from 14 percent in 2002 to 34 percent in 2019.
In the current study, the research team kept tabs on the academic progress of over 4,000 students who attended preschool between 1997 and 2003. Each child earned one of the limited preschool slots through a lottery system by Boston’s public school system. The randomized lottery gave every child a fair chance of going to preschool and, as an unintended bonus, it gave researchers an opportunity to study two groups of children: those that attended preschool and those that did not.
“It’s fairly rare to find school-based interventions that have effects of this magnitude,” Pathak says.
The study authors hypothesize that the increase in college attendance has more to do with better behavioral outcomes in life, rather than doing better on tests. One possible explanation is that children attending preschool are learning important habits to keep themselves out of trouble. Attending preschool lowered the chances of juvenile incarceration by one percent.
Another important topic to address is the quality of preschools. These programs can differ in what skills or curriculum they are teaching.
The study is published in Quarterly Journal of Economics.
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