The China Quarterly
In the 1990s, rural youth from poor counties in China had limited access to college. After mass college expansion started in 1998, however, it was unclear whether rural youth from poor counties would gain greater access. The aim of this paper is to examine the gap in college and elite college access between rural youth from poor counties and other students after expansion. We estimate the gaps in access by using data on all students who took the college entrance exam in 2003. Our results show that gaps in access remained high even after expansion. Rural youth from poor counties were seven and 11 times less likely to access any college and elite Project 211 colleges than urban youth, respectively. Much larger gaps existed for disadvantaged subgroups (female or ethnic minority) of rural youth from poor counties. We also find that the gaps in college access were mainly driven by rural–urban differences rather than differences between poor and non-poor counties within rural or urban areas.