Expanding the Applicant Pool: Exploring the College Decision-Making of Students from Single-Parent Families

By Bateman, Mark; Kennedy, Eugene | College and University, Summer 1999 | Go to article overview
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Expanding the Applicant Pool: Exploring the College Decision-Making of Students from Single-Parent Families

Bateman, Mark, Kennedy, Eugene, College and University


This article explores factors which predispose students from single- and two-parent families to pursue postsecondary education and identify implications for enrollment managers and researchers. The results of this study indicate that while parents play the most pivotal role for each group of students, mothers are of primary importance for students from single-parent families.


Enrollment managers and admissions personnel are under continuous pressure to increase the quality, and in many cases the quantity, of matriculants to their institutions. This pressure has led administrators and policymakers to develop programs that draw matriculants from historically untapped areas of the applicant pool of prospective students. For example, the search for African-American students led to policy development at several levels (including state, federal, and institutional), assisting colleges and universities in the recruitment of this segment of the population. However, there continue to be student groups in the applicant pool that need attention if institutions are to fully explore, recruit, and retain potential students. A particularly important group to address are those students from singleparent families. The lack of attention given to these students has left policymakers and administrators with little information to develop effective and efficient strategies to recruit and retain this important and growing segment of the applicant pool.

According to census data, 25 percent of children in the United States are under the age of 18 and growing up in singleparent homes headed by women-a total of 17 million children (Bureau of the Census 1997). Rawlings and Hernandez (1990) traced the dramatic rise in the number of families headed by single-parent females from 1970 and expect the trend to continue. Research has indicated that these children tend to have lower economic attainment in adulthood than those from two-parent families (Krein 1986). Additionally, students from single-parent families have comparatively low levels of educational attainment and are more likely to experience academic failure and leave school prematurely than is true of children from two-parent families (Hauser and Featherman 1976). In fact, single-parent, female-headed families are often included among lists of disadvantageous traits which put students "at-risk" for a host of negative outcomes (Sartain 1989). According to Krein (1986), living in a single-parent family has a direct negative effect on educational level. In addition, Keith and Finley (1988) found parental divorce was associated with lower levels of educational attainment.

Despite the well documented growth of students from single-parent femaleheaded families and inclusion of these students as at-risk, there is a dearth of literature and research on the postsecondary educational plans of these students. Interestingly, although college choice research has identified parents as critical to the decision making process (Hossler and Stage 1992), students from singleparent families have not been studied. The trends regarding students from single-parent families combined with the role parents play in the college choice process provide the basis for research on the development of educational aspirations of students from single-parent families. Such research will aid enrollment managers in developing effective and efficient policies designed to recruit this growing portion of potential students.

Theoretical Framework

The theoretical framework for this study is drawn from two sources, a model of college choice developed by Hossler and Gallagher (1987), and research by Hossler and Stage (1992). Research on college choice has been grounded in economic, sociological, and combined models (Kohn, Manski, and Mundel 1976; Litten 1982; Chapman 1984). This study utilized the Three Stage Model of College Choice by Hossler and Gallagher (1987).

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Expanding the Applicant Pool: Exploring the College Decision-Making of Students from Single-Parent Families


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