In The Sunday Age yesterday, there was another article about private school students struggling at university. It was based on the numerous studies (I mention a couple here) which have found that, for a given ENTER score, kids from private schools, and also selective government schools where they have been examined, average slightly lower first-year university marks than kids who have been to government schools.
Though this finding has been repeated frequently enough for it to be regarded as a valid social science generalisation, it is also widely misunderstood as saying that private school students get lower grades at university. I haven’t seen that question specifically answered in research, but given that private school students have much higher median ENTERs that is unlikely to be the case. Though private school students are not as academically prepared as government school students who get the same grades as they do, disproportionately few government school students actually get those matching grades at the end of Year 12.
There is also the problem that the studies are all of first year students. It would not be surprising if the differences narrowed in subsequent years, as private school students adjust to the more self-directed study style at university and learn that university life doesn’t offer quite the same freedom compared to school at they might have first thought.
As an ACER study I blogged on in April found, private school students have a higher rate of actually completing university, though once starting ENTER scores are taken into account there are no significant differences betweens school sectors.
One issue we don’t know much about is the differences between government and private school students after university. I have been trying to do a little research on this using the 2005 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes.
Looking at gross income for graduates in the full-time labour market, private school students are significantly more likely than government school graduates to have an income over $78,000 a year. The proportions were: Government, 27%, Catholic, 37%, Independent, 50%.
One limit of the 2005 AuSSA is that this includes income from all sources, and it is more likely than people from Independent schools have investment or other income.
However, there are also some interesting field of study differences (these are of the whole sample, not just full-time workers). These are most striking in education; 22% of government school graduates have a degree in education, compared to only 7% of Independent school graduates. This may be partly the legacy of the old teaching scholarships, but also of the lower Year 12 scores more recently required for entry to education courses. Though there was nothing else as striking as education, government school graduates were also over-represented in creative arts, IT and science (but only by 1%).
Independent school students were most over-represented in the annoying ABS category ‘society and culture’, which includes arts but also law, 24% compared to 16%. I expect this reflects the hold Independent schools have had on law schools, but perhaps also the BA as a kind of finishing school for middle class girls.
We need more research to know whether the under-representation of government school student university graduates in the top income categories reflects their field of study and subsequent occupation, or whether perhaps the social and cultural capital Independent school students possess advantages them in the labour market, over and above the effects would would expect from their course and grades.