Attending preschool can predict whether or not you’re going to college

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Seems like a good SAT score and a stellar high school GPA aren’t the only factors when it comes to getting into college. 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.

“We find that 4-year-olds who were randomly allocated a seat in a public Boston preschool during this time period, 1997 to 2003, are more likely to attend college, and that it’s a pretty large effect,” says study co-author Parag Pathak, a professor in MIT’s Department of Economics, in a university release. “They’re also more likely to graduate from high school, and they’re more likely to take the SAT.”

The study did not find a link between preschool attendance and higher scores on Massachusetts standardized tests. However, the researchers did notice other indicators of academic success. Children who attended preschool were less likely to have behavioral problems later on in life. This includes fewer suspensions, less absenteeism, and fewer problems with the law.

“There are many things that influence whether you go to college, and these behavioral outcomes are relevant to that,” adds Pathak.

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.

When the kids grew up, the study authors found a 5.9-percent jump in attendance at four-year colleges after high school in preschool-educated students. They were also 8.5 percent more likely to take the SAT and often showed higher scores on these exams.

“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.

“There are probably two broader lessons,” the researcher adds. “We cannot judge the effectiveness of early childhood interventions by just looking at short-run outcomes, stopping by third grade. You’d get a totally misleading picture of Boston’s program if you did that. The second is that I think it’s really critical to measure outcomes beyond test scores, such as these behavioral outcomes, to have a more complete picture of what’s happening to the child.”

Another important topic to address is the quality of preschools. These programs can differ in what skills or curriculum they are teaching.

“We’re really excited because there’s a lot of potential to apply our approach to other settings.”

The study is published in Quarterly Journal of Economics.

YouTube video

Follow on Google News

About the Author

Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

Jocelyn is a New York-based science journalist whose work has appeared in Discover Magazine, Health, and Live Science, among other publications. She holds a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and a Bachelor’s of Science in integrative neuroscience from Binghamton University. Jocelyn has reported on several medical and science topics ranging from coronavirus news to the latest findings in women’s health.

The contents of this website do not constitute advice and are provided for informational purposes only. See our full disclaimer