Qualified: Public vs Private

Were you part of the 66% of Olin students who felt unqualified at some point during your first year at Olin? Have you ever blamed your high school background for not preparing you enough for Olin? Similar questions have been asked by multiple U.S. colleges. Interestingly enough, different studies show extremely different results for these controversial topics. A study published by the U.S. Center on Education Policy found that when comparing students who had attended private and public high schools, there was no difference in achievement tests, college attendance rates, or job satisfaction in later years. Essentially, this study found that the difference between a private and public high school education didn’t matter much in the long run.

There are, however, many studies that contradict the results found by the U.S. Center on Education Policy. Take, for example, the Harvard Study “On the Public-Private Achievement Debate” which found that students who had attended private high schools had a clear advantage. This study found that private high school students out-performed public high school students in almost every category. A study conducted by Worth magazine in 2002 found that 94 of the top 100 Ivy League feeder schools were private. Whichever way you look at it, there will always be the concept of the “private-school advantage”.

I personally did all of my K-12 education in the public schools within my district. When coming to Olin, I wondered what kind of students felt qualified to be here, and what students felt as though their peers had a better educational background than they. After conducting an online student-wide survey at Olin with 203 responses, I found some interesting things about how qualified Olin students feel during their first year.

The pie charts below show the correlations between students who felt qualified vs. unqualified in relation to their high school background. From this graph we can say that students who attended a magnet high school felt qualified significantly more often than others. It is also interesting that no students who went to private high school felt overqualified, while there were a significant number of students who attended public school who felt overqualified (p-value = .004). The information concerning students who attended charter schools or were home schooled is not shown to maintain privacy due to the small number of responses.

However, if we group the data into only two categories (qualified/unqualified) and only compare students from private and public (non-magnet) high school, then there is no statistically significant difference for how qualified Olin students felt (p-value = .396). Does this indicate that there is no significant difference between public and private high school in the United States? Probably not, because Olin is a selective group which is already highly filtered in the first place. Although this survey suggests a relatively homogeneous result, the most interesting part of this study was how Olin students feel academically during their first year regardless of high school background.

Overall, 62% of students felt as though their peers had a better educational background than what they had, and 66% of students felt unqualified at least some of the time at Olin during their first year. What value does feeling qualified give to students? And is there something the Olin community should do to address the high rate of students feeling unqualified during their first year? I believe there is room for Olin to improve the first year experience. In the same way that we receive a summer reading book it might be feasible to send some other basic non-mandatory resources for students in areas such as programming, 3D modeling and math. This might help alleviate some of the stress of coming to Olin.

Online note: graphs are not shown in the online edition. To request a pdf copy of this issue, send an email to submit at franklyspeakingnews.com.

What do you think? Send a letter to the editor at submit at franklyspeakingnews.com.
If you would like access to the data set or the sources, contact Mariah Dunn.


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