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Socioeconomic Factors and Outcomes in Higher Education

Carlos Felipe Rodríguez Hernández

1. Introduction

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1Over the past few years, students’academic performance has been an important subject of educational research. A need to better understand the factors related with students’academic performance gained prominence after the publication of a 1966 report sponsored by the National Center for Education Statistics entitled, Equality of Educational Opportunity (eeo), by Coleman, Campbell, Hobson, Mc Partland, Mood and Weinfeld (1966). The report concluded that school performance in the United States was largely influenced by students’socioeconomic characteristics and that the variables associated with the school had little or no effect on the differences in school performance. These results raised great controversy, as many scholars did not understand how the variables associated with the school itself would have no impact on academic performance. Thus, many were motivated to conduct studies aimed at corroborating or refuting Coleman’s hypothesis. According to Gamoran and Long (2007) “since its publication, Coleman’s article has been cited in academic journal articles over 2,700 times (…) the argument about the relative role of school resources versus family background is probably the most cited contribution of eeo” (p. 24).

2McKenzie and Schweitzer (2001) have grouped students’performance predictors into four categories: academic, psychosocial, cognitive and demographic. In relation to academic factors, Li, Chen and Duanmu (2010) state that “prior academic achievement is a key academic predictor of the students’further achievements at higher levels of study. A number of studies have shown that it plays a dominant role in predicting students’learning outcomes” (p. 391).

3With regard to demographic factors, Sirin (2005) argues that “socioeconomic status (ses) is the most widely used contextual variable in education research” (p. 417). For example, White (1982) did a meta-analytic review that focused on studies conducted before 1980 with the purpose of exploring the connection between ses and academic performance. The main results indicated that the connection changes depending on several components, for example, the types of ses and academic achievement measures used (Sirin, 2005). Nevertheless, it is difficult to establish the connection between ses and academic performance due to the social, economic and methodological changes that have happened since the publication of White’s 1982 report (Sirin, 2005).

4Another indicator of student’s academic performance might be represented by standardized tests results. For Morris (2011) citing Wang, Beckett, and Brown, (2006), standardized tests are designed to generate conditions, questions, scoring procedures and interpretations that are consistent in different schools. Moreover, standardized tests are provided to large groups of students simultaneously, and the outcomes of the tests are utilized in different ways, including appraisal and assessment (Morris, 2011). Some standardized testing is often used in oecd (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries in order to evaluate students, teachers and schools. There are differences among countries in terms of purpose, design, questions, implementation and use of test outcomes (Kellaghan, Greaney, & Murray, 2009). As reported by Morris (2011) citing Eurydice Network (2009):

… across the literature it is understood that there are a multitude of uses of national tests results; however, each use is typically linked to one or more of the primary purposes of standardized tests: 1) monitor and evaluate national education system; 2) hold schools and educators accountable; 3) provide information to the public and 4) serve formative purposes. (p. 9)

5A fifth purpose can be added to this list related with measuring the individual level of performance. A list of countries that use national tests in order to screen and assess the educational system includes: Denmark, Australia, Belgium (Flemish Community), Estonia, Ireland, Spain, France, Finland, the United Kingdom (Scotland), Chile, Japan, New Zealand, Korea and Canada (Morris, 2011).

6The rankings that arise from standardized tests do not go unnoticed by the Colombian government, and help it to refocus its efforts on assuring the quality of education which is assessed by the Colombian Institute for the Assessment of Education (icfes) at all educational levels. icfes evaluates Colombian students using different standardized tests, such as saber 5 at the end of fifth grade, saber 9 at the end of ninth grade, saber 11 at the end of the 11th grade and saberpro which students must take upon completion of university. saberpro tests have been proposed in particular as standardized external evaluation instruments and represent an attempt to evaluate, inspect and monitor the quality of higher education in Colombia. Universities are expected to propose learning-focused curricula for developing the competencies that the student must achieve to be able to perform in a particular field of knowledge (Delgado-Ramírez, 2013).

7In the Colombian case, several studies have been proposed to relate the students’academic performance with their socioeconomic conditions. For instance, Alejandro Gaviria and Jorge Hugo Barrientos are two authors who have dedicated their research to the study of determinants of academic achievement in Colombia, specifically in the cities of Bogotá, Medellín and Cali. In Gaviria and Barrientos (2001a), the authors examined determinants of academic performance of students in the capital city of Bogotá, proposing three main conclusions. First, parental education has a substantial effect on academic performance; second, the effect of parental education is transmitted primarily through the quality of educative institutions and third, the schools have a significant impact on academic performance.

8In Gaviria and Barrientos (2001b), the authors present a larger work where the determinants of the quality of secondary education based on data from saber 11 are studied in the city of Bogotá. Their analysis focused on three aspects: the effect of family characteristics on academic performance, the effect of site features on the quality of academic performance, and the effect of public spending on the relative quality of public versus private schools. The main results of the study indicated that there was a positive link between parental educational levels and the children’s academic performance. Additionally, this study showed that teachers’education, the number of teachers per student and the school’s infrastructure and schedule have a positive effect on the test results.

9Barrientos (2008) also studied these determinants in the Colombian metropolis of Medellín. By analyzing icfes outcomes between the years of 2004 to 2006 through a quartile regression, he found school variables seemed to be weaker than students’variables in their academic performance; he also found that these school results were similar for both private and public institutions. Finally, he compared these results with the results from the Bogotá study and concluded that Colombia’s public education system in general was of low quality.

10Another Colombian researcher, John Jairo Correa (2004) conducted a similar study using a multilevel model in order to incorporate both individual characteristics and those associated with the institution by analyzing data of the city of Cali. This model took into account the relationship between the students and the institutions where they studied. The author concludes, similarly to the studies conducted in other Colombian cities, that the variables associated with the school are very significant in determining academic performance.

11Taking into account all of the above, it seems important to examine the way in which some socioeconomic factors are related with the academic performance of the students in Colombia. Specifically, this study explored and compared the relationship among the results of saber 11, the socioeconomic variables and the results of saberpro of some university students in Bogotá and seeks to improve and expand the technical quality of the educational system in Colombia, something eminently worthwhile.

General Objective

12The purpose of this study was to employ different multivariate techniques in order to analyze the relationship among the results of saber 11, the socioeconomic variables and the results of saberpro of some university students in Bogotá.

© Universidad externado de Colombia, 2016

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