By Richard Vedder
You probably think I pontificate on enough things as it is, and now I am trying to offer family planning advice. But there are some utterly fascinating British data that cry for replication in the U.S., reported to us first by the ultimate numbers fanatics on student higher education participation issues, postsecondary.org, in their August newsletter-- which I read religiously.
English babies born in September-October-November are far more likely to progress to college than babies born in June-July-August. September babies have the highest progression rates. The difference between August and September babies is NOT minuscule --something exceeding 20 percent.
Of course, two big questions arise. First, why? What causes these differences? Second, is the American picture any different? And the answers to those questions lead to a third question: Even if such differences exist in America, can or should we try to do anything about it (e.g., subsidizing birth control methods in some months, taxing them in other months -- although I think I am joking about that option).
The expectation is that the differences relate to the ages of students. When kids begin school, the oldest kids who just missed the cut off date for being in the next older class are perhaps 20 percent older than the youngest kids who just missed the cut off date for being in the next younger class. The data suggest that a significant group of kids never overcome the deficiency of being young --arguably too young --at the beginning. Those decisions on entrance date impact enormously on future success.
We need to see if this is true in the U.S. The cutoff dates for, say, kindergarten or first grade vary by state. Do college participation and completion rates vary by the cutoff date selected? If so, what is the "optimal" date? Do we under use or overuse the holding back or advancing of students during their elementary and secondary years? Above all, why in a nation that knows the number of, say, Hispanic women under the age of 25 majoring in architecture, do we NOT know this very basic type of information with a high degree of assuredness? More generally, why does higher education --a sector that brags about the research it does on umpteen different subjects --do so little research on itself?