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276-Is the high school admissions process fair? Explaining inequalities in elite high school enrollments in developing countries

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Researchers typically explain inequalities in access to elite high schools by looking at gaps that appear before the high school admissions process. However, even when disadvantaged students reach the stage of high school admissions with identical qualifications as advantaged students, mechanisms particular to the high school admissions process may prevent disadvantaged students from accessing elite high schools. The overall goal of this paper is to examine the degree to which the high school admissions process deters disadvantaged students from accessing elite high schools. To fulfill this goal, we analyze longitudinal, administrative data on approximately 24,000 students in one region of China. In this setting, according to our data, the rural-urban gap in elite high school attendance can be larger than 50 percentage points (even though rural students comprise well more than half of the high school student population). Our results show that the five subject exams of the high school entrance exam (HSEE) are biased against rural students. If the HSEE dropped two of the most biased subject exams from the HSEE, access to elite high schools among rural students would increase by 4 percentage points (or 8 percent). Furthermore, conditional on HSEE scores, rural students are 13 percentage points less likely than urban students to apply for elite high schools. Finally, conditional on HSEE scores and application choices, the existence of an alternative admissions channel that charges extra admissions fees further reduces rural access by 18 percentage points.

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