10 years of promoting student diversity

at Sciences Po

A program "that has proved its worth"

Detailed study of controversial CEP program shows that the overwhelming majority of students succeed at Sciences Po and go on to well-paid, secure jobs

In 2001, Sciences Po implemented a pioneering program to bring greater social and ethnic diversity to the student body. In a departure from its admissions practices, the Paris-based institution, France’s leading university for social sciences, invited high schools in deprived areas of France to become partners and put forward their most-promising students.

The policy attracted considerable controversy. One recurrent criticism was that this French version of U.S. “affirmative action” would fail, because the students wouldn’t be able to keep up with their peers at Sciences Po, or that they would be stigmatized as “second class” graduates and struggle to find employment.

Ten years later, 860 students have attended Sciences Po through this program, known as the Conventions Education Prioritaire (the “Priority Education Conventions”), and six cohorts have graduated. The CEP students currently account for about 10% of the annual undergraduate intake. The number of high schools participating has grown to 85, and about 20 companies are sponsoring the project.

Now, a detailed study of how these students fare at Sciences Po and what happens to them once they graduate provides the first scientific assessment of the program. The study, by Vincent Tiberj, a well-known French sociologist at the Centre d’Etudes Européennes research institute, focuses on the six classes of CEP students who graduated between 2006 and 2011. In looking at their performance on the labor market, he compared the beginnings of their professional careers with all the Sciences Po students who graduated in 2009. Among his conclusions:

  • The CEP program has significantly increased the social diversity of Sciences Po’s student body, with a substantially larger number of students (28.5%) now come from working class or unprivileged backgrounds.
  • The proportion of students receiving financial aid at Sciences Po has risen to 27% from just 6% a decade ago, and is considerably higher than at most other elite French higher education institutions such as HEC, Ecole Polytechnique or the Ecole des Mines.
  • The overwhelming majority of the CEP students who matriculated at Sciences Po keep up or quickly catch up with their peers, and the drop-out rate is “marginal.”
  •  After graduation, CEP students quickly go on to find jobs; two thirds of the students who graduated between 2006 and 2011 are currently employed, and four in ten of them were hired before they had even graduated.
  •  The proportion of CEP students in full-time employment (63%) is higher than that of their Sciences Po peers (56%). The proportion continuing in further education is about the same (27%).
  • About 10% of the CEP graduates are employed in the public sector, compared with 25% of non-CEP graduates from Sciences Po.
  • Two thirds of the CEP graduates who find employment in the private sector are on secure, permanent “CDI” contracts (contrats de durée indeterminée)
  • Half of the CEP students earn more than 2500 euros per month after tax, which is 300 euros more than the average net salary of Sciences Po graduates from the class of 2009. (The median net monthly wage in the French median private-sector is 1500 euros).

“The Priority Education Conventions have proved their worth,” Mr. Tiberj’s report concludes. “To sum up, these former students are not considered like “cut-price Sciences Po” graduates. Quite the contrary, employers treated them either like their peers, or perhaps better.”

Listing some of the program’s principal merits, he writes: “They have made it possible to select the desired students, a large majority of whom are from working class backgrounds. This is not ‘smoke and mirrors’. The students who were admitted through this program had more difficulties than their classmates in adapting to Sciences Po, but in the end the very large majority obtained their degrees and now are employed in “classic” jobs for Sciences Po graduates.”


Sciences Po, founded in 1871, is France’s leading university for the social sciences.  Its alumni include a Secretary General of the United Nations, four Managing Directors of the International Monetary Fund, numerous corporate leaders, 10 of France’s last 18 Prime Ministers, and the three most recent Presidents of the Republic.  Today, 40% of the 10,000 students are international, from 130 countries.

The usual admissions procedure for French students to Sciences Po requires them to sit an entrance examination in the same year that they take their baccalaureate school-leaving examination. The CEP students must sit the baccalaureate but are not required to take the Sciences Po written exam. Instead, Sciences Po’s partner high schools put forward promising candidates, who submit a written paper on a current affairs topic. They are then interviewed. Successful applicants usually receive substantial financial aid that covers their Sciences Po tuition fees and, depending on their family’s income, can receive additional bursaries to cover living expenses.

For further information:

Cyril Delhay, Communications Director  cyril.delhay@sciences-po.fr

Peter Gumbel, Director, Center for the Americas peter.gumbel@sciences-po.fr