The latest results of the Australasian Survey of Student Engagement were released today, and like previous research finds very little evidence that socioeconomic status matters much once students arrive at university.
On various learning outcomes, low SES students – defined in this case as being from a low SES area and being the first in their family to attend university – rate themselves slightly more favourably than middle or high SES students.
(click on image for clearer view)
Source: figure 40, ACER, Doing more for learning: Enhancing engagement and outcomes
Perhaps this is because higher SES students have a less favourable comparision between uni and school, but low SES students do not perceive themselves as being particularly disadvantaged at university.
Unfortunately the report doesn’t go into detail about grades, though it does say that the average reported grade for middle SES students is only 0.7 on a 0 to 100 scale above low SES students. However this is only a modestly useful finding, since as I have argued the definition of low SES based on living in the lowest 25% of postcodes has no basis in social science. Many so-called middle SES students are sociologically pretty much the same as ‘low’ SES students.
The limited past research would suggest, however, that once university entry scores are controlled for low SES has no effect or even a positive effect on grades.
In the government’s proposed equity funding policies additional money is to be spent on services for enrolled low SES students, but the evidence suggests that SES is not a reliable indicator of academic need. There have been long delays in releasing the final version of this policy, and I can only hope it is because they realise that the original policy was misconceived.