Students enrolled in private schools in 2006 through the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP), the oldest modern private school voucher program in the nation, generally enrolled in college at higher rates and persisted in college longer than similar students at public schools. We also find, however, that as of 2017, rates of college degree attainment were not significantly different. This study adds to the substantial body of evidence on the effects of the Milwaukee voucher program on student outcomes.
The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program began in the fall of 1990 as a five-year pilot program with seven private schools and 341 students. It has since grown to include 27,857 students at 126 private schools during the 2017-18 school year. Though policies have changed over the years, the current iteration of the program allows both religious and non-religious private schools to accept vouchers, provided they are accredited. Once limited, the maximum voucher amount now increases at the same rate as spending on K-12 public schools.
Earlier evaluations have found few differences in performance on standardized tests between MPCP students and similar students in Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), though researchers did observe that enrollment in the MPCP in ninth grade was associated with significantly higher rates of high school graduation, four-year college enrollment, and persistence into the second year of college.
This study builds on the previous evaluation by examining the outcomes of students enrolled in grades three through nine in 2006. We compare a random sample of 1,926 third through eighth graders and the full population of 801 ninth graders enrolled in MPCP to similar students in MPS. We present results that control for student characteristics. For the ninth-grade sample, we can also adjust for parent characteristics.
Effects on college enrollment
In general, enrollment in MPCP had a positive effect on college enrollment but no effect on degree attainment.
Ninth graders who were enrolled in the MPCP in 2006 were 6 percentage points more likely to enroll in a four-year college than their MPS counterparts. 43 percent of MPCP students enrolled in four-year institutions, compared with 38 percent of MPS students, a statistically significant difference. We found no consistent evidence of difference in enrollment at two-year colleges or in degree attainment.
We find similar results for students enrolled in grades three through eight in 2006, who were 5 percentage points more likely than their MPS counterparts to enroll in a four-year college. Once again, we did not find significant differences for degree attainment or enrollment in two-year colleges.
Students who attended a private school through the MPCP were more likely than similar students enrolled in public schools to enroll and persist in four-year colleges. There was no difference, however, in their likelihood of enrolling in a two-year college or in their rate of college degree completion. These results contribute to a growing body of evidence on how private school voucher programs affect student educational attainment.