Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Posse Program: The Importance of Peer Effects

I wanted to talk a bit more about the Posse Program, a policy that I’m happy to report Grinnell College is taking part in. The program takes high school students from public-inner city schools and provides them scholarships to top small liberal arts schools across the country (see article). However, they don’t just leave it at that. Students are required to attend weekly sessions during their senior year of high school to create a bond with their “posse” of 10 students they will attend the same college with.

The program works too as around 90% of students who are awarded the scholarship graduate, similar to the graduation rate of all students at the schools mentioned.

This made me think about a research topic a friend of mine in graduate school was pursuing. The idea that student performance is tied to their peer group. That is that students do not want to perform too much above or below their peer group for fear of being ostracized. Akerlof and Kranton 2002 piece in the Journal of Economic Literature provides a good overview of the subject. Although so does Season Four of HBO’s series the Wire. The kids in that show in part did not study, because their peers did not. There was also an attempt to take the "corner kids" out of the class room, to improve the class room situation and possibly the peer group.

By creating a group of students and a peer group the Posse program allows students to work harder without fear of being ostracized.

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