Can Educational Vouchers Pay for Themselves? Evidence from Colombia

Students in a Colombian secondary school classroom

Photo by Rodianchevere/CC BY-SA 3.0


Michael Kremer
Gates Professor of Developing Societies
Department of Economics
Harvard University

Juan Esteban Saavedra
Economist, Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Policy Research
University of Southern California


Thursday, February 2, 2017


Noon–1:00 p.m. PT


RAND Corporation
1776 Main Street
Santa Monica, CA


A large-scale government program in Colombia used a lottery to distribute scholarships for private secondary school to socially disadvantaged students. Michael Kremer and Juan Saavedra will present results from their recent work analyzing the effect of this program on schooling and work outcomes. Based on administrative data up to seventeen years after the scholarship lottery, they find that lottery winners are less likely to repeat grades, more likely to graduate from secondary school on time or ever, and more likely to start and complete tertiary education. Tertiary education impacts are strongest among vocational school applicants. They also examine the effects of these scholarships on teen fertility, and long-term employment outcomes 20 years after the scholarship lottery.


Michael Kremer is the Gates Professor of Developing Societies in the Department of Economics at Harvard University. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and a Presidential Faculty Fellowship, and was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. Kremer’s recent research examines education, health, water, and agriculture in developing countries.

Juan Esteban Saavedra is an economist at the USC Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Policy Research with a research focus on development economics, labor economics and the economics of education. He has published peer-reviewed articles and book chapters on topics that include vouchers for private schooling, the impact of educational resources on attainment, college value added and job training.

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