Charter School Graduates Earn More in Their 20′s, Study Says

(Photo:  Army Medicine, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Army Medicine, Creative Commons)

A new report is the first of its kind to explore the effects of charter schools on earnings in adulthood in addition to effects on educational attainment.

The report, “Charter High Schools’ Effects on Long-Term Attainment and Earnings,” used data from Florida to confirm previous research which found that students who attend charter schools are more likely to graduate from high school and go on to enroll in college.  Researchers then looked at two longer-term outcomes that have not been studied before in any charter school research, including college persistence and earnings.

Researchers found that students who attend charter schools are more likely to graduate high school, persevere in college, and earn a higher income in their mid-20′s.

Charter schools have seen a rapid increase in their growth ever since they first began to appear almost 20 years ago.  In all, more than 6,800 schools exist in over 40 states, enrolling close to three million students.

While most previous research has focused on short-term effects related to student test scores, this paper offers a view into the longer-term effects by looking at student success throughout college and beyond.  The authors suggest that although measuring the impact a charter school has on test scores is important, it does not give a full picture concerning the effect that such a school has on its students.  They go on to suggest that outcomes unrelated to test scores, such as graduation, enrollment in higher education, college persistence, and future earnings could actually have greater consequences than test scores.

The report highlights this importance through the example of the financial advantage associated with a college education, which has become increasingly apparent as manufacturing jobs begin to disappear and the wages offered to high school educated workers have begun to stagnate.

The report states that it goes beyond looking into the importance of graduation and postsecondary admission rates to discover whether students who went to charter schools thrive in the college environment and go on to achieve higher earnings.

In order to determine this, a small sampling of students enrolled in charter schools in the eighth grade were observed by researchers.  The treatment students continued their enrollment into the ninth grade, while the comparison students enrolled in a traditional public school.  The researchers looked at the earnings of these students at age 23 and 25, finding that enrollment in charter schools is not only associated with higher high school graduation rates and college attendance rates, but also higher earnings.

The report showed that students enrolled in charter schools in high school displayed higher rates of persistence in college as well as some evidence of increased earnings in the long-run.  Charter school students were found to earn an average of $2,318, or 12%, more per year than those students who graduated from a traditional high school.

Authors Tim R. Sass, Ron W. Zimmer, Brian P. Gill, and T. Kevin Booker suggest further research is needed in order to determine if similar results can be found in other locations using larger student samplings.