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• One credible academic study backs up Biden’s statement.
• Other studies of preschool programs have also shown gains in college attendance, but the rates have been lower, ranging from 12% to 18%.
• Generally speaking, the more socioeconomically disadvantaged the group of students is, the bigger the boost preschool provides for future college attendance.
During his State of the Union address, President Joe Biden touted the importance of preschool for improving future economic performance, and he emphasized his point by citing academic research.
"Studies show that children who go to preschool are nearly 50% more likely to finish high school and go on to earn a two- or four-year degree, no matter their background they came from," Biden said on Feb. 7.
Experts said Biden’s statement is supported by research. However, they added that the outcomes in the main study supporting Biden’s statistic are on the high end compared with other academic findings.
Both the White House and independent specialists told PolitiFact that the strongest piece of evidence supporting Biden’s claim is a 2018 study of the Chicago Child-Parent Centers program. The paper was published in the journal JAMA Network and was written by three researchers affiliated with the University of Minnesota: Arthur J. Reynolds, Suh-Ruu Ou, and Judy A. Temple.
It found that children who participated in a large-scale, preschool-to-third grade intervention had a 48% higher rate of degree completion — an associate degree or higher — compared with peers with lesser participation. The study followed 1,398 children up to age 35 and cited "greater benefits for those whose mothers were high school dropouts."
The takeaway, the authors wrote, was that "multiyear, comprehensive, preventive interventions beginning in early childhood can promote long-term educational success that contributes to positive health and economic outcomes."
Reynolds told PolitiFact that Biden’s assertion "certainly is supported by our long-term research."
Erica H. Greenberg, who studies early childhood education at the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, agreed that this Chicago program study supports Biden’s statement. She cautioned, however, that this is probably the high-water mark for assessments of its type.
Greenberg said that in the Chicago program, about 93% of the children in the study were Black, and 7% were Hispanic; all were from lower-income families. The children studied were born in 1979 or 1980, allowing enough time to track their post-secondary educational achievement.
Other research suggests that preschool programs may offer the largest improvements for children who face the most severe socioeconomic disadvantages, such as the children in the Chicago program.
"The data aren’t consistent across studies, and the impact varies depending on the type and length of preschool enrollment and the racial and socioeconomic background of the students," said Archana Pyati, a spokesperson for the Center for Law and Social Policy, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group.
Experts cited a few other studies for comparison.
• Tulsa studies. One 2023 study, led by Bill Gormley of Georgetown University, looked at 4,033 students in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It found that students who participated in a pre-K program in 2005-06 were up to 12% more likely to be attending college at both two-year and four-year institutions by 2022.
A group of researchers that included several of the previous paper’s co-authors separately wrote in 2022 that students who attended Tulsa’s pre-K program saw benefits in high school, too, including higher attendance, a greater likelihood of passing courses, higher rates of enrollment in advanced courses, and a smaller likelihood of being held back a grade. It found the improvements were especially significant for students of color.
• Boston study. Greenberg noted a 2021 study by academic researchers Guthrie Gray-Lobe, Parag Pathak and Christopher Walters that looked at a large-scale public preschool program in Boston. It found an 18% increase in college attendance for the preschool program’s participants, along with increases in SAT test-taking and high school graduation and decreases in disciplinary measures. It found no significant difference in achievement test scores. The study found greater benefits for boys than for girls.
Greenberg said this study benefits from having examined a larger, more recent, and more diverse sample than the Chicago study.
Reynolds, the Chicago study’s lead author, said the other studies support Biden’s general proposition, even if the scale of the impacts is smaller than the "nearly 50%" figure Biden used.
"There are many studies over many decades of different programs and populations that demonstrate these long-term effects," Reynolds said.
He added that much depends on the strength of a preschool program. "Of course, like bad parenting, poor-quality programs don't yield long-run gains," Reynolds said.
Biden said, "Studies show that children who go to preschool are nearly 50% more likely to finish high school and go on to earn a two- or four-year degree, no matter their background they came from."
There is one study that backs this up, and experts agreed that it’s credible.
Other studies of preschool programs have also shown gains in college attendance, but the rates have been lower, ranging from 12% to 18%. As a general pattern, experts said, the more socioeconomically disadvantaged the group of students is, the bigger the boost preschool provides for future college attendance.
We rate the statement Mostly True.
Joe Biden, transcript of remarks in the State of the Union address, Feb. 7, 2023
Arthur J. Reynolds, Suh-Ruu Ou, and Judy A. Temple, "A Multicomponent, Preschool to Third Grade Preventive Intervention and Educational Attainment at 35 Years of Age" (JAMA Network), March 2018
William T. Gormley Jr., Sara Amadon, Katherine Magnuson, Amy Claessens, Douglas Hummel-Price, "Universal Pre-K and College Enrollment: Is There a Link?" (AERA Open), 2023
Sara Amadon, William T. Gormley, Amy Claessens, Katherine Magnuson, Douglas Hummel-Price, and Katelyn Romm, "Does early childhood education help to improve high schooloutcomes? Results from Tulsa" (Child Development), 2022
Guthrie Gray-Lobe, Parag A. Pathak, and Christopher R. Walters, "The Long-Term Effects of Universal Preschool in Boston" (Quarterly Journal of Economics), May 2021
Greg J. Duncan and Katherine Magnuson, "Investing in Preschool Programs," (Journal of Economic Perspectives), Spring 2013
Email interview with Erica H. Greenberg, early childhood researcher at the Urban Institute, Feb. 8, 2023
Email interview with Archana Pyati, spokesperson for the Center for Law and Social Policy, Feb. 8, 2023
Email interview with Arthur J. Reynolds, professor of developmental psychology at the University of Minnesota, Feb. 9, 2023
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