Timing of College Enrollment Linked to Graduation

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WASHINGTON--High-school students who enroll in a four-year college immediately after graduation are more likely to earn a college degree than are other students, suggests a study released here last week by the American Council on Education.

Moreover, the study found, the probability that students will continue their education uninterrupted after graduating from high school corresponds with their socioeconomic status and academic success.

Socioeconomic status, the report says, is the more influential factor because many talented low-income students are unable to pay for a four-year college.

The report, which presents an analysis of data from the Education Department's 1980 High School and Beyond longitudinal survey, concludes that "institutions [must] answer several key questions related to the low attainment rates for minorities, students from low-income backgrounds, and for those who did not attend college in the traditional manner."

Robert H. Atwell, president of the A.C.E., said the findings "raise important issues of social equity and economic policy for federal and state officials."

Mr. Atwell blamed changes in federal financial aid for leading low-income and minority students to delay going to college, take time off from their studies once enrolled, attend on a part-time basis, or choose less-expensive schools.

"The declining value of student aid and the dramatic shift in emphasis from grants to loans over the past 10 years have placed a special burden on low-income and minority students," he said.

Socioeconomic Effects

The study found that of the 1980 high-school graduates who enrolled in college immediately after finishing high school, 53 percent earned a bachelor's degree by 1986. By comparison, only 9 percent of 1980 high-school graduates who attended college by a nontraditional path graduated by 1986, the report says.

Over all, only 19 percent of the 1980 high-school graduates earned a degree within six years, it notes, and only 48.2 percent of the 1980 high-school graduates entered any postsecondary institution immediately upon graduation.

Of the graduates coming from low-income families, 31.5 percent went on to higher education immediately after high school. By comparison, 72.6 percent of the students from the top socioeconomic quarter immediately enrolled in some form of higher education, the report says.

Students coming from the second and third quarters continued their education at rates of 42.5 percent and 54.9 percent, respectively, the study found.

A student's quarter was determined by parental education level, family income, father's occupation, and other household factors. In addition to socioeconomic status, academic ability determines whether high-school graduates attend college or some other form of postsecondary education right after high school, according to the study.

Students from the highest quarter of achievers enrolled in higher education the semester following graduation at a 77.7 percent rate, it found; students from the lowest quarter enrolled at a rate of only 23 percent.

Students from the second and third quarters enrolled at rates of 41.1 percent and 60.7 percent, respectively.

Racial Differences

The report also includes breakdowns by race. More than 75 percent of Asian high-school graduates attended a postsecondary education institution immediately after high school, it says, the highest for any racial group.

Meanwhile, only 49.9 percent of white, 41.7 percent of black, 39 percent of Hispanic, and 34.6 percent of American Indian students enrolled in some form of higher education immediately after graduating from high school, according to the report. Other findings include:

- The 38 percent of 1980 high-school graduates who followed a nontraditional path to college, 44 percent went on to a two-year school; 20 percent went to a less than two-year institution; 18 percent transferred into four-year schools; 15 percent delayed entry into college; and 3 percent attended college part time.

- High-school graduates who entered college immediately after graduation along the traditional path but who interrupted their studies later returned; 26 percent dropped out; 13 transferred to another school; and 11 percent became part-time students.

The study, "College Going, Persistence, and Completion Patterns in Higher Education: What Do We Know?," is the third in a series of research briefs that are available from the A.C.E., One Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C. 20036; telephone (202) 939-9450. The one-year series costs $55.

Vol. 11, Issue 02, Page 8

Published in Print: September 11, 1991, as Timing of College Enrollment Linked to Graduation
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