Predictors of Delayed College Enrollment and the Impact of Socioeconomic Status

By Rowan-Kenyon, Heather T. | Journal of Higher Education, March-April 2007 | Go to article overview

Predictors of Delayed College Enrollment and the Impact of Socioeconomic Status


Rowan-Kenyon, Heather T., Journal of Higher Education


The vast majority of research examines the college enrollment of traditional aged students immediately after high school--that is, within 2 years of high school graduation (Cabrera & La Nasa, 2001; Hossler, Braxton, & Coopersmith, 1989; Hossler & Gallagher, 1987; Manski & Wise, 1983; Perna, 2000; St. John, 2003). Research consistently shows lower rates of enrolling in college within 1 or 2 years of high school graduation for students with lower income and low socioeconomic status than for other students (Cabrera & La Nasa, 2001; Fitzgerald & Delaney, 2002; Perna, 2000; Plank & Jordan, 2001). While such work sheds light on the variables that affect traditional college enrollment, little is known about the decision-making process of students who may choose to enroll in college later.

A review of trends in enrollment suggests that growing numbers of individuals who do not transition immediately from high school to college may be enrolling in college at some later point in time. About 39% of all students participating in any type of postsecondary education were over the age of 25 in 1999, up from 28% in 1970 (Choy, 2002). While these data may also reflect an increase in part-time and postbaccalaureate enrollment, a share of this growth in older student enrollment may be attributable to an increase in the number of students who are enrolling in college several years after graduating from high school.

Although the growing share of older students implies growth in delayed enrollment, there is limited research about the characteristics of students who delay college enrollment or about how the predictors of delaying enrollment compare to the predictors of immediate enrollment or no enrollment. Since literature on traditional student access has shown that low-socioeconomic-status students are less likely than high-socioeconomic-status students to attend college immediately after high school (Cabrera & La Nasa, 2001; St. John, 2003), low-socioeconomic-status students may represent a greater portion of the college population that delays enrollment to a later time. Examining this nontraditional form of enrollment may inform practitioners and policymakers of avenues where the socioeconomic gap in enrollment can be closed. More generally, understanding the characteristics of students who delay entry and the predictors of the decision to delay enrollment may suggest ways to assist all students in this group better.

Some research has identified the characteristics of students who delay enrolling in college immediately after graduating from high school and supports the notion that low-socioeconomic-status students are overrepresented in this group (Aslanian, 2001; Choy, 2002; Choy & Bobbit, 2000; Cook & King, 2004; Hearn, 1992; Horn & Carroll, 1996). Through their analysis of data from the 1995-1996 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, Choy and Bobbit (2000) found that 40% of undergraduate students aged 24 to 29 who enrolled in college were classified as low income.

With the exception of Hearn (1992), few researchers have examined the variables that influence the decision of a student to delay entry into college after high school graduation. He used the High School and Beyond data set to look at 1980 high school graduates who delayed enrollment into college between 1 and 2 years after graduating from high school. His logistic analyses showed that students who delayed enrollment were less likely than those who enrolled in college immediately after high school to be academically prepared for college.

However, little is known about the predictors of the decision to enroll in college more than 2 years after graduating from high school. Similarly, we do not know whether results of analyses among 1980 high school sophomores apply to more recent cohorts, and if social capital, cultural capital, college cost, and financial aid also affect the decision to delay the enrollment into college of high school graduates. …

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