Slipping Past the Test: Compensatory Advantage of Social Background in the Context of Inconsistent Selection Mechanisms in Higher Education (joint work with Gordey, Yastrebov and Dmitry Kurakin)
In this paper we analyze how existence of alternative pathways to higher education, which imply different selection mechanisms, affects social inequality in educational attainment. We study this in Russia’s semi-tracked educational system, where higher education can be accessed from both academic and vocational track, but the rules of admission in higher education from each of them are different. Whereas access through academic track is explicitly meritocratic by means of central admission exams aligned with secondary school curriculum, vocational track is generally less selective with regard to student intake, and yet allows less restrictive access to higher education. We argue that this has ambiguous implications for social inequality: on the one hand, meritocratic forms of selection in the academic track disempower advantaged families in their ability to mobilize non-meritocratic resources for success of their children, while, on the other hand, in case of children’s likely failure they encourage them to predate on the opportunities, which were designed to facilitate educational mobility among children of less advantaged families (i.e. pathways enabling access to higher education through vocational programs). We test these conjectures and provide supportive evidence using data from the longitudinal survey Trajectories in Education and Careers.