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Improving the Access to Higher Education for the Poor: Lessons from a Special Admission Program in Chile

Díez-Amigo, Sandro (2014): Improving the Access to Higher Education for the Poor: Lessons from a Special Admission Program in Chile.

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Abstract

This paper presents a higher education special access program for students from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds, custom-designed by the author for one of the leading Chilean universities, and implemented as a pilot during the 2013 and 2014 admission periods. A non-experimental comparison of the academic performance of special and ordinary admission students after enrollment finds evidence that, consistent with Arcidiacono et al (2011), although on average special admission students have comparable final grades than their ordinary admission peers, they tend to perform comparatively worse in "hard" subjects (i.e. those with a strong mathematical component). However, although special admission students seem more likely to decide to withdraw earlier, no significant differences in voluntary withdrawal or dismissal rates are observed between the latter and their ordinary admission peers. Moreover, an initial gap in GPA between special and ordinary admission students is closed by the end of the third semester of enrollment. All this suggests that, with some nuances, students from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds can successfully catch up with their peers when provided with adequate support, and that special admission programs can therefore be an effective tool to improve the access to higher education. Nonetheless, the fact that the program was undersubscribed suggests that, apart from potential information diffusion problems, the minimum requirements set forth for special admission may have been too stringent, and/or that the demand for special admission among the targeted student population may not be as large as predicted.

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