The Effect of Elite Secondary School Programs on University Outcomes in Hungary

Csóka, Imola (2023) The Effect of Elite Secondary School Programs on University Outcomes in Hungary. PhD thesis, Budapesti Corvinus Egyetem, Közgazdasági és Gazdaságinformatikai Doktori Iskola. DOI

PDF : (dissertation)
PDF : (draft in English)
PDF : (az értekezés tézisei magyar nyelven)


Most of the education systems in developed countries start streaming their students to different educational pathways (tracks) at the secondary school level, which usually takes place after grade 8 when students are 14-16 years old. However, a special type of track also exists which aims to educate the best and brightest in the cohort: elite schools have competitive learning environments and highly selective admissions such as grammar schools in the UK and exam schools in the USA. Elite schools are of great interest to educational researchers and policymakers, although the results in the international literature are mixed due to methodological issues and differences in education systems that result in context dependency. Hungary has a unique type of elite track, where selection happens in grade 4 or 6, much earlier than in most of the comparable elite programs, so this institution relates to the field of early tracking in education, such as elite schools' literature. The primary issue for students and parents is whether applying to elite programs is worthwhile and what kind of gains (if any) can be made if admitted. For policy makers on the other hand, not only elite program's effectiveness can be interesting, but its possible impact on inequality as well. My research focuses on identifying the effects of elite programs. I compare students who entered the elite program in Grade 5 or 7 (treated group) to students who entered the general program in Grade 9 (control group) in the same academic high schools. I address the following questions: 1. What is the role of test scores and family background in admission to elite programs? Which is the stronger factor? How does it relate to inequality? 2. Do elite programs help increase students' test scores more than the alternative track (general programs)? Is this impact (if any) substantial or negligible? 3. To what extent do elite programs impact post-secondary education outcomes, such as enrollment to BA and MA level, obtaining a degree, type of major, and quality of university? Where is the greatest impact? 4. What are the most important channels of the mechanism? Is it through improved test scores, grade point average (GPA), aspiration, or something else? 5. Are the effects heterogeneous? Do students of different test scores or backgrounds experience different effects? This study exploits rich administrative individual panel data in Hungary to study how enrollment in an elite secondary school program affects students’ university outcomes. First, I analyze the sorting mechanism, then measure the effect of elite programs on test scores and post-secondary education. OLS and propensity score matching estimates show significant 3-4 percentage points effects of elite secondary school programs on university enrollment and completion rates. These differences are much lower than raw differences but are non-negligible, and the relative impact of elite secondary school programs on tertiary completion and MA enrolment is much greater in magnitude compared to that on BA enrollment. Suggestive evidence shows that a substantial part of the enrolment effect can be attributed to improvement in school performance – test scores and GPA, and I also offer further suggestive evidence on the potential mechanism through teacher/school quality. Heterogeneity in the independent variable (university enrollment) is also considered by distinguishing majors (STEM, arts, medical, law and governance), internationally recognized universities and publication performance of universities (university quality), and MA enrollment. Findings are inconclusive about STEM track choice, but I find significant and non-negligible positive effects on the quality of the university where students enroll and, on the probability, of whether students continue MA-level education as well. A detailed heterogeneity analysis is conducted on groups based on explanatory variables (e.g. gender, SES, test scores, primary school quality) shows that students of more disadvantaged groups benefit more from elite programs, although the effects on more advantaged students are also mostly significantly positive, but smaller in magnitude. I apply IV estimation to test for omitted variable bias in the current estimates, and the results do not indicate the presence of severe bias. Moreover, I conducted several robustness tests to support the findings, and the main coefficients remain stable throughout different specifications. The study aims to extend the knowledge relating to the effects of elite secondary school programs in international and Hungarian literature as well. The contribution of this research is threefold. First, this study examines and compares short-run (test scores) and long-run post secondary outcomes together in a similar setting. Second, to the best of my knowledge, this research is the first to look at university outcomes in the context of elite programs in Hungary. Third, considering university quality as an outcome in the international literature regarding the effect of elite schools is rare, and the application of international rankings as a quality measure is unique.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD thesis)
Supervisor:Horn Dániel, Cserháti Ilona
ID Code:1331
Date:15 December 2023
Deposited On:11 Oct 2023 10:08
Last Modified:18 Dec 2023 15:04

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