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Faculty of Economics

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Cavalcanti, T.V.D., Guimaraes, J. and Sampaio, B.

Barriers to Skill Acquisition in Brazil: Public and Private School Students Performance in a Public University Entrance Exam

The Quarterly Review of Economics and Finance

Vol. 50(4) pp. 395-407 (2010)

Abstract: This paper uses a novel data set to quantify the difference in performance of public and private school students in an entrance test exam of the major public university in Brazilian Northeast (Universidade Federal de Pernambuco – UFPE). Although there are many public universities in Brazil, from our knowledge, there is no study that uses data on entrance test scores at such universities to evaluate the determinants of students’ performance and the barriers for public school students to get in the good universities. The data set has detailed information on individual and school characteristics, and family background. We found that test scores of public school students are on average about 4.2–17% lower than those taken by private school students, depending on the set of controls. This result is robust when we address problems related to attrition, omitted variables (e.g., cognitive ability), and unobservable selectivity. We also show that once students get into the university, those from public schools perform as well as those from private schools. In addition, the proportion of public school students that gets into the university is roughly the same as the proportion of students doing the entrance exam. However, there is a strong barrier for public school students to get into high competitive majors. The fraction of students from public schools that gets into high competitive majors such as law, medicine, and electronic engineering is almost null. Our findings provide quantitative evidence to the common view that the Brazilian elitist high education system is an important channel for inequality persistence.

Keywords: Inequality; Public and private schools; Test scores

JEL Codes: J01, J24, O11

Author links: Juliana Guimaraes Cavalcanti  Tiago Cavalcanti  

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