“Here’s what the university can do.”
A few days ago, I had the chance to read the policy paper entitled “On the ‘income advantage’ in course choices and admissions: Evidence from the University of the Philippines”. It was published in the International Journal of Educational Development and was written by Dr. Sarah Lynne S. Daway-Ducanes of the UP School of Economics, Dr. Elena E. Pernia of the UP College of Mass Communication, and Vincent Jerald R. Ramos of the Hertie School of Governance.
It discusses a few interesting factors that contribute to an “income advantage not only in terms of being admitted to the UP System, but also in being admitted to the first-choice cluster”. Analysis of data covering a period of ten years (2006-2015) showed that applicants coming from richer households have higher probabilities of being admitted to UP.
Understanding UP’s system of admitting students is significant as it is the country’s largest state university. Moreover, its students bear the moniker “Iskolar ng Bayan”, as their education is funded by the people’s taxes. It is therefore natural to posit that educational opportunities stemming directly from government taxes be distributed equally among the social classes. However, as is discussed below, this is not always the case.
I reached out to Dr. Daway-Ducanes, who is my first cousin, to provide a compressed version of their article. Here is their simplified version.
Recent evidence in developed economies points to rising inequality of access to higher education, favoring students from higher socio-economic backgrounds. Given the sparsity of evidence in developing economies like the Philippines, we ask the question: Does an ‘income advantage’ exist in the University of the Philippines (UP) admissions, in spite of policies that aim to democratize access to higher education, particularly in the “Unibersidad ng Iskolar ng Bayan”? Using 2006-2015 admissions data from the UP System, we indeed found an ‘income advantage’ for applicants coming from richer households.
Having consistently ranked highly in international university rankings and having many of its units recognized as “Centers of Excellence” by the Commission on Higher Education, UP has maintained its status as the premiere institution of higher education in the country. From 2006 to 2015, UP received approximately 63,000 to 88,000 applications per year, of which only around 15-19 percent were admitted. During this period, 66 percent of all UP applicants predominantly came from three regions— the National Capital Region (NCR), Region IV-A (CALABARZON), and Region III (Central Luzon), suggesting the over-representation of some geographic areas in the applicant pool.
The 2006-2015 data further showed that the distribution of applicants was skewed in favor of richer applicants: 32 percent of all applicants to UP during the study period belonged to the highest income classification (with annual household income of more than around PhpP 536,000), while only 11 percent were from the lowest income classification (with annual household income of not more than around PhP 75,000).
In terms of admissions, applicants from the three topmost income groups comprised around 56-66 percent of those yearly admitted into UP, and around 59-64 percent of those yearly admitted into their first-choice cluster (i.e, Arts and Sciences, Management and Economics, Science and Technology, or Social Sciences and Philosophy).
Income affected the probability of being admitted to UP
Using logistic regression analysis to analyze the probability of admissions depending on one’s socio-economic status, while taking into consideration other personal and geographic factors (such as high school grades, high school type, high school region, year of application, sex, etc.) typically reported in the UP College Admission Test (UPCAT) application form, there remained an ‘income advantage’ not only in being admitted to UP, but also in being admitted to one’s first-choice cluster.
Students from the poorest income group were 13 percent less likely to get into UP than those coming from the richest income group. All other income groups had a lower probability of admission relative to the richest income group, but this gap shrunk as the income group increased. In particular, students coming from the second highest income group were still less likely to be admitted, but only by around 4 percent, relative to the highest income group.
What might then explain this ‘income advantage’? The literature on admissions inequality in other countries points to the mediating effects of family dynamics and early childhood outcomes, cultural and emotional capital, and private tutoring as mechanisms through which the ‘income advantage’ may play out, apart from that which work directly through the quality of education typically received in high schools that wealthier households can afford. For instance, there are various college preparation classes offered by private review centers for senior high school students intending to take university entrance examinations. These review classes, which many low-income students may be unable to afford, could significantly improve the performance of the applicant in UP’s admissions test. Moreover, income may proxy for better quality of nutrition (‘brain foods’, in particular) and an environment more conducive to learning (i.e., having one’s own room, latest gadgets, etc.) only available to students coming from wealthier backgrounds.
Some policy implications Public investments and student support programs
The above results suggest that policies, such as Republic Act 10931, Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act, or the Free Tuition Law, are likely to disproportionately benefit wealthier students. Moreover, the high level of competition to get into UP, given that the ‘demand for admissions’ far exceeds the supply, is likely to persist. Public policies should then address the structural gaps in our educational system.
First of these is to address the public-private divide through additional investments in primary and secondary public schools. Early child development interventions beginning in basic education (i.e., kindergarten through grade 6) have yielded benefits in students’ academic achievements, growth and development. Likewise, these manifest in positive effects in academic outcomes as the student progresses to junior and senior high school. To address the glaring disadvantage of students from public vocational and public barrio schools vis-`a-vis students from private schools and science high schools in terms of the probability of admission to UP, leveling the quality of education across various high school types is a significant step in the right direction.
In addition, the government may supplement the existing free tuition policy with better student support at the primary and secondary levels to ensure that those who are financially disadvantaged are accorded equal opportunities to complete secondary education and apply for universities, if they so desire. These supporting mechanisms may come in the form of financial (e.g., scholarships, loans and grants, etc.) and non-financial means (e.g., information campaigns, mentorship programs, free college entrance exam reviews, etc.).
What UP can do
Finally, the University of the Philippines may take concrete steps to further promote inclusivity and ease of access in its admissions to favor students from more disadvantaged backgrounds, while maintaining and even improving its high academic standards and institutional reputation. One such step involves periodically revisiting and recalibrating the Excellence-Equity Admissions System (EEAS) parameters to ensure that competent students from lower-income backgrounds are sufficiently represented in the pool of admitted students. Another step would involve streamlining the application process and at the same time, providing alternative portals or means for submitting application forms to reduce the barriers to application faced by poorer students.