Low SES Students Do Better at Uni than High SES students

A study published last month shows that students from low SES schools have higher grades in first year university than students from high SES schools. It also shows that students from public schools performed just as well as students from Catholic and Independent schools.

The study found that students from lower SES schools achieved higher grades at university than their peers from higher SES schools, after taking account of university entrance scores. It concluded that “…schools with low SES prepare their students better for university study compared to schools with high SES” [p. 22).

The authors said that their findings indicate that high SES schools tend to inflate their students’ university entry scores and improve their access to university. However, the effects of such ‘privilege’ do not extend into university study, where students from lower socioeconomic status appear to face a level playing field in terms of academic performance.

The study called for university admission regimes to be restructured to favour students from low SES backgrounds. It said that participation in higher education for these students should be encouraged, particularly as they are under-represented.

The study also found that the school sector attended by students has no discernible impacts on their university academic performance. Students from public schools perform just as well at university as students from Catholic and Independent schools. The study concluded:

….no school sector appears to provide a better platform in preparing their students for university study. The initial positive effect estimate for Independent schools is accounted for by the differences in their resource levels. [p. 22]

Several other studies have also found that students from public schools get better grades in first year university courses than students from Catholic and Independent schools (see here, here, here and here ).

The study assessed the role of various student and school characteristics that impact on first year university academic performance, such as school resources, student and school socioeconomic status (SES) and school sectors. It used data from an anonymous Australian university on undergraduates commencing in 2011 to 2013. A number of student and school factors apart from the SES of students and schools were also taken into account. The study was published by the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education at Curtin University.

Li, Ian W. & Dockery, A. Michael. Socio-economic status of schools and university academic performance: Implications for Australia’s higher education expansion. National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education, Curtin University, Perth, December, 2014.

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