A better higher ed prediction

Though my prediction on science applications wasn’t on target, my prediction on low SES enrolments is doing better.

The basic theory is that low SES applicants are disproportionately affected by movements in the number of places in the higher education system, so that when the number goes down they get a declining share of the total, and when it goes up they get an increasing share.

This is because low SES school students tend to get lower average Year 12 results, the currency for ‘buying’ admission to university. Other things being equal, a contraction in places causes admission requirements to rise and prices low SES applicants out, while an expansion causes admission requirements to fall and allows low SES students to buy more places.

The 2008 enrolment statistics released yesterday show that commencing domestic undergraduate numbers were up 1.5% on the previous year, allowing a modest increase in low SES* share from 16.95% to 17.01% (overall this series is very stable; most years rounding makes it flat).

Breaking the statistics down further, in the public universities 17.3% of commencing undergraduates are from low SES backgrounds, compared to 15.2% in non-public university providers- even though most of these students are paying full fees.

* This is using the postcode measure of low SES; permanent residence in a postcode in the lowest 25% according to the ABS Index of Education and Occupation.

9 thoughts on “A better higher ed prediction

  1. “and 15.2% of the students in non-public university providers- even though most of these students are paying full fees.”

    Are “these students” students at non-public university providers, or low SES students at non-public university providers? (Also, does non-public university providers include TAFEs and other public non-university providers?)


  2. Includes higher ed students at TAFEs and other publicly owned providers outside the public uni system.

    I have amended the original post to clarify that I am comparing public and private on the same basis.


  3. Andrew I take it your basic conclusion is that low SES students are slightly over-represented in the “swing places”. So any change in the number of places has a more significant change on low SES students? Eg 1% more places means more than a 1% increase in low SES getting a place.

    Don’t know if you saw this American analysis.


    Basic summary. Wealth dumb kids are more likely to finish college than smart poor kids. Paul Krugman “It’s comforting to think that we live in a meritocracy. But we don’t.”

    I don’t think the figures are quite as skewed here.


  4. “those who get into uni from low ses postcodes are likely be from high ses households with tertiary educated parents.”
    That might be true to a small degree, but I doubt there are enough high SES households in places like Sunshine that could contribute enough students to make up the numbers. This means the majority of people from low SES neighborhoods must be there for other reasons (e.g., students looking for low rent, students that really are poor, etc.).


  5. As I noted in this post, SES does not seem closely related to completion in Australia.

    This includes studies that do not use postcode proxy measures, so it is not just high SES individuals in low SES areas.


  6. conrad / andrew – I don’t doubt you might be at least a bit right.

    Does postcode reflect postcode address while in tertiary?

    It might be interesting to see postcode of secondary school, postcode of parents residence too.

    conrad – I was wondering if , say, high numbers of overseas students (mainly indian) in Sunshine might skew figures.

    andrew – is there anything that might show ease of access to tertiary ed influences low ses takeup – say a regional (urban or rural) area with a uni and low entry scores vs something else….

    Naturally I am not requesting yoy go away and write it up for me but I’m musing and have always been a bit puzzled about what works (and motivation) to get people from low ses into post secondary (which in general is a proxy for higher ses outcomes)


  7. fxh,

    I’d love to know the answers to your questions too (indeed, I’ve thought of some of the possibilities you suggest) — but I don’t think the data exists (excluding the OS student stuff). My bet is that a lot of those coming from the low SES postcodes are average/high-achieving new immigrant groups, some middle class Australians, and some younger kids living out of home looking for cheap rent. Of the Australians, I think the data is really non-linear (based on casual observation). I doubt there are too many kids from low SES backgrounds, but there are certainly some from the next rung up (low/middle class). I think this is especially so for females — it seems the low/middle class male is doomed.


  8. The postcode data is supposed to be of the student’s permanent home residence rather than their term address, but there is no way of verifying this. International students are not included.

    DETYA (as DEEWR then was) about 10 years ago tried to analyse what influence proximity to campuses had. In their model it accounted for only about 1% of the 10% gap between metro and regional participation rates. As they pointed out at the time, there are urban areas with campuses or close to campuses that nevertheless have low higher ed participation rates, so proximity alone cannot explain differences. This is consistent with my general view that there is a pool of potential students who can be targeted with supply-side initiatives, but the main reason for differences in enrolment rates is lack of demand due to weak prior academic performance and preference for other kinds of work.

    DEEWR analysis of 2009 applications suggest that the number of applications from provincial areas is slightly below what we would expect given their population, and that their acceptance rate is slightly lower than for metropolitan applicants who also received offers. However, given our woeful lack of knowledge of why offers are rejected it’s hard to know what conclusion to draw from this.

    Conrad – You are right that low SES females are more common than males, though 12-15% of working class males in their late teens were at university according to the 2006 census.


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