Any person.
Any study.
Any Cornelliana.

An alumni
blog about Ezra's
University. (more)


Suggestions? Tips?




[+] Cornell News

[+] Higher Ed News

[+] Campus Pubs

[+] Alumni Interest

[+] Diversions

[+] Blogs

[+] Sports

[+] Other Places


[+] By Month

[+] By Author

Explaining the Achievement Gap

A new working paper released by the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute by recent Cornell graduate Marquise McGraw explores a subject that has long been a concern in academia – what factors can help to explain differing academic performance (broadly measured by both propensity to graduate and cumulative GPAs) amongst students of different ethnicities and backgrounds?

The findings, while still preliminary and subject to improvements in both the model and the data, are intriguing.

Through the use of econometric models, McGraw is able to discern the marginal impact that any individual attribute may have on a student’s academic performance after controlling for all other possible explanations. For instance, McGraw’s results show what the marginal impact public or private high school attendance is estimated to be on a student’s cumulative GPA after controlling for such things as an individual’s race or what course of study the student is in.

His paper controls for a wide array of variables—including such interesting characteristics as whether or not a student is on financial aid, a legacy student, whether or not the student went to a public or a private high school, and each student’s high school’s size and its expenditures per pupil.

There is a lot to good information to digest in the paper, and what follows is a brief overview of what I find to be McGraw’s key findings:

1) An individual’s SAT scores are an important predictor of both graduation rates and cumulative GPA – but only if that person is white. Such evidence supports the claim that the SAT is not as good of a marker of academic success that its proponents would like to claim it is.

2) Neither the size of a student’s high school nor the amount of spending a high school spends per pupil has much affect on a student’s academic achievement in college. However, attending a private high school appears to be associated with both lower GPAs and graduation rates.

3) Being on financial aid is associated with both lower graduation rates and lower cumulative GPAs.

4) Blacks and Native-American students have by far the largest GPA and graduation rate differentials with their fellow students. And while family background helps to explain a significant amount of this differentiation, ethnic differences in student achievement still persist.

5) While students of Asian descent do not have lower graduation rates, they actually are predicted to have lower GPAs, on average. This kind of bursts the whole “curve-busting cyber-Asians” meme.

6) “Neighborhood effects” don’t seem to have much influence on student achievement after controlling for the other variables. The poverty rate of a student’s high school is not significantly associated with academic achievement. Similarly, the percentage of same-race students at an individual’s high school has no effect on academic achievement. Put another way, after controlling for a high school’s resources, blacks do no better in college had they gone to an all-white high school or an all-black high school.

7) Enrollment in a university’s “outreach and opportunity” programs is associated with higher GPAs – but only if the student is black. For non-blacks, enrollment in such outreach and study-skill building programs appears to be of little value.

From a university policy perspective, I find #7 to be the most interesting. Namely, it suggests that universities can do more to expand/target their outreach practices to non-black students who may need additional help outside of the lecture hall.

Coincidentally, the paper relies on a restricted dataset of a certain nameless, large Ivy-league university. See if you can figure out what university McGraw’s study looks at…

N.B. I have recently extended an invitation to McGraw to join the MetaEzra blogging team… here’s to hoping that he will soon be on this site offering some of his own sage insights about Cornell on a semi-periodic basis.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on June 10, 2006 (#)

Other Recent Posts

-- WSJ: Cornell Wins NYC Tech Campus Bid (EBilmes)

-- Barrier Update: City Approves Nets (DJost)

-- Big Red Cymbal Guy (Nagowski)

-- New York Times Survey on Campus Recruiting is Flawed (KScott)

-- Barrier Update: Legal precedent suggests City of Ithaca will not be held liable for gorge suicide (DJost)

-- Despite MSG Loss, Big Potential for Big Red Hockey (EBilmes)

-- City Council Will Vote on Suicide Nets (DJost)

-- An Encounter on the Upper East Side (Nagowski)

-- Showing Off Your School Spirit (Nagowski)

-- Chipotle Ithaca? (KScott)

-- Cornell at the ING NYC Marathon (KScott)

-- Crossing Over a Fine Line: Commercial Activity on Campus (KScott)

-- Milstein's Downfall (Nagowski)

-- Can any Cornell-associated organization really be independent of the University? (Nagowski)

-- Slope Media Revisited (EBilmes)

-- Slope Media Group Approved for Byline Funding (KScott)

-- Occupy AEM? (KScott)

-- New campus pub to be good for both Greeks and non-Greeks (Nagowski)

-- Gagging the Election (Nagowski)

-- The Changing Structure of Rush Week (Nagowski)

-- Ivy League Humility in the Midwest (EBilmes)

-- Of Median Grades and Economics Minors (Nagowski)

-- Homecoming Recap (Nagowski)

-- My Cornell Bookshelf (Nagowski)

-- The Sun's Opinion Section Has Suddenly Gotten Good (Nagowski)

-- Remembering the 11th (Nagowski)

-- Cornellian Tapped as Top Economic Advisor (Nagowski)

-- Cutting Pledging, and the Good Which Comes With It (EBilmes)

-- Why Cornell Should Not Close Fall Creek Gorge (Nagowski)

-- Welcome to the Class of 2015 (Nagowski)