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Unequal Access to College in China: How Far Have Poor, Rural Students Been Left Behind?*

  • Hongbin Li (a1), Prashant Loyalka (a2), Scott Rozelle (a3), Binzhen Wu (a4) and Jieyu Xie (a5)...

In the 1990s, rural youth from poor counties in China had limited access to college. After mass college expansion started in 1998, however, it was unclear whether rural youth from poor counties would gain greater access. The aim of this paper is to examine the gap in college and elite college access between rural youth from poor counties and other students after expansion. We estimate the gaps in access by using data on all students who took the college entrance exam in 2003. Our results show that gaps in access remained high even after expansion. Rural youth from poor counties were seven and 11 times less likely to access any college and elite Project 211 colleges than urban youth, respectively. Much larger gaps existed for disadvantaged subgroups (female or ethnic minority) of rural youth from poor counties. We also find that the gaps in college access were mainly driven by rural–urban differences rather than differences between poor and non-poor counties within rural or urban areas.


在 20 世纪 90 年代, 中国贫困地区的农村青年上大学的机会非常有限。即便 1998 年大学扩招后, 贫困地区农村青年是否享有更多机会也不甚明朗。本文目的在于检验大学扩招后, 贫困地区农村学生与其他学生在考取大学乃至名牌大学上的差距。为此我们使用了 2003 年全国参加高考学生的数据。结论显示: 即便在扩招之后, 这种差距依然很大。具体地, 贫困地区农村学生考取大学的机会比城市学生小 7 倍; 考取 211 名牌大学的机会比城市学生小 11 倍。这一差距在贫困地区农村学生的子群体中 (贫困地区农村、女性、少数民族学生) 更大。我们也发现这些差距主要由城乡差别, 而不是由贫困与非贫困地区差别所致。

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We would like to thank the Tsinghua University China Data Center for supporting this work. The support of CK and Mei Liu is also gratefully acknowledged. Hongbin Li acknowledges financial support from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Project ID: 71025004 and 71121001). Binzhen Wu acknowledges the support of the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Project ID: 70903042 and 71373136).

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The China Quarterly
  • ISSN: 0305-7410
  • EISSN: 1468-2648
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