New Study Explores Long-Term Impact of Educational Access in Chilean Schools

What would happen if we granted access for some of the most impoverished children in our communities to attend society’s best, most elite schools? 

Would it benefit them? How would they fit in, and how would they be treated by their classmates? What would be the long-term impact on their lives, and how would they look back on their schooling experiences?

A new study from the Institute for Educational Initiatives explores these questions in Chile. But in today’s Chile, these questions are not mere hypotheticals; they currently form the premise for a new law being considered in the Chilean Parliament, which would require Chile’s elite, tuition-funded schools to reserve up to 30 percent of classroom seats for low-income students. Supporters of the controversial legislation hope to promote a future Chile marked by greater equity, but the bill also taps into the root of a complex past and a now-famous social integration experiment at Chile’s premier school in its capital city. 

But to really understand the effects of such a social integration policy, we need a much longer time horizon than is typical in education research and policy evaluation. To really understand the effects of a school on its students’ entire lives, you need just that: a lifetime.

And so we look to the past and the story of Saint George’s College, the flagship school of the Congregation of Holy Cross in Chile, and the social integration program it undertook in the late 1960s. Hundreds of students from nearby slum neighborhoods were integrated into the school over the course of a decade. Controversial at the time, the program continued until class tensions in Chile erupted, eventually leading to the coup d’état and rise to power of the military regime led by General Augusto Pinochet. In Pinochet’s first days in power, the military occupied Saint George’s College, kicked out the Holy Cross priests from Chile, and interrupted the program, though allowing the ‘integrados’ (the low-income students on scholarship at the school) to continue at the school through graduation. Some of these students did not stay–they either transferred or dropped out–and some completed their schooling at Saint George’s.

What happened next is unknown. Nobody has ever systematically studied the experiences of these students, or for that matter, the impressions of the other students and teachers at the school when the integration program was put into effect. The celebrated 2004 Chilean film Machuca, directed by Georgian alum Andrés Wood, resurrected the memory of the program, and now the current legislation bears the referent in its popular name: La Ley Machuca. But the question as to the long-term impact of the program is of significant interest, especially since it may serve as a case study to inform the current policy debate in Chile and more generally lend evidence for understanding the lifelong effects of certain types of schooling on the life outcomes of students, especially the poor.

The study is led by two Notre Dame faculty, T.J. D’Agostino and Rev. Timothy Scully, CSC, both of whom are Fellows of the Institute for Educational Initiatives and Kellogg Institute for International Studies. They are collaborating with Chilean education scholar Cristóbal Madero, SJ, of the University Alberto Hurtado, and a Uruguayan sociologist, Nicolás Somma, of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile.

The research design is mixed methods and will include surveys, focus groups,  and interviews of former students of Saint George’s College at the time of the integration program, including both those who were beneficiaries of the program and their classmates. The survey will compare the outcomes of these students with national averages for people from similar demographic backgrounds on a range of civic, educational, religious, and economic outcomes. By using interviews and focus groups, the researchers will seek to understand the experiences and perspectives of the integrados and their peer students in regards to the program, its impact on their lives, and their perspective on the current policy debate.

The study has received support from the Kellogg Institute for International Studies.