Despite planning college, disadvantaged students are less likely to enroll in college, particularly 4-year colleges. Beyond cost and academic achievement, previous research finds that a lack of college-related social resources poses barriers. However, little research investigates whether schools can help. We examine whether, how, and for whom a new counseling model aimed at providing college-related social resources may improve college enrollment. Following nearly all seniors in Chicago Public Schools from senior year through the fall after high school, we find that coaches may improve the types of colleges that students attend by getting students to complete key actions. It is important that the most disadvantaged students appear to benefit. This research suggests that targeting social resources may improve the high-school-to-college transition for disadvantaged students.
- postsecondary education
- social stratification
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TY - JOUR
T1 - Can High Schools Reduce College Enrollment Gaps With a New Counseling Model?
AU - Stephan, Jennifer L.
AU - Rosenbaum, James Edward
N1 - Funding Information: This research follows nearly all students in a large urban school district from senior year of high school through the fall after graduation. It provides a detailed picture of points of stratification in the high-school-to-college transition and how providing social resources may reduce barriers. The cross-sectional panel data set with measures before and after the onset of the coach program allows for a rigorous test of the relationship between the onset of the program and college actions and outcomes. Because coaches were not randomly assigned to schools, however, the estimated odds ratios could be inflated, and these results must be interpreted with caution. Coach schools do not differ systematically from non-coach schools on many measured characteristics and trends prior to program onset, and the analysis has reduced potential selection bias through statistical adjustments. However, unmeasured dynamic differences between coach and non-coach schools could account for the findings. The findings do suggest, though, that this program, or similar ones, is worth further investigation with more rigorous evaluation methods. The analysis finds two gaps in the enrollment process: Many students with general college plans do not form specific plans, and specific plans are not sufficient for enrollment. These gaps are larger for Latino, non-AP, and lower SES students. This finding is important for school staff or researchers who sometimes mistakenly assume that specific stated plans at the end of senior year translate into actual college enrollment in the fall. Schools may have greater success at reducing the first gap since students are in school when they form specific plans. However, schools may also be able to take some measures during the school year to reduce the second gap (e.g., coaches help students complete actions or anticipate and plan for challenges likely to arise in the summer), or they may offer summer help to graduated seniors. These results indicate that one cannot assume that the college choice process is over when the school year ends. Students face serious challenges after schools close for the summer. College actions appear to be an important mechanism for reducing gaps in the enrollment process. Many students who have general college plans do not take actions to make college happen. Although this does not preclude attending college, students who do not complete these actions risk missing key deadlines, have less access to school help, and may have fewer (and perhaps less desirable) college options. Students who complete key actions are more likely to form specific plans and to enroll in college, in less selective 4-year versus 2-year colleges, and in more versus less selective 4-year colleges. Unlike the traditional counseling model, college coaches use innovative strategies to engage new groups of students in social interactions to improve college enrollment outcomes. Coaches’ strategies may allow them to provide key social resources, including social support, detailed and ongoing help, and monitoring of key actions in the process ( Stephan, forthcoming ). Students at coach schools were significantly more likely to attend less selective 4-year colleges, which have much higher graduation rates than 2-year colleges, 4 and they were more likely to enroll in college (borderline significant at p = .06). On the other hand, coaches are not associated with 2-year college enrollment (vs. no enrollment), which is not encouraged, or with more selective (vs. less selective) 4-year college enrollment (which was not a program emphasis during these years). Coaches appear to affect enrollment outcomes by increasing the number of students applying to three or more colleges and completing the FAFSA. The most surprising results are for more disadvantaged students. In many programs, the rich get richer. Whereas coaches are charged with improving college enrollment outcomes for all types of students, coaches’ emphasis on social resources may have particular benefit for students often underserved by traditional approaches, students with more difficulties in the application process, and students from schools with a low percentage of college planners (which may reflect a lack of college-going culture). Moreover, analyses suggest that coaches are associated with reduced gaps in less selective 4-year college enrollment between Latinos and African Americans and possibly between lower and higher SES students. On the other hand, the reduced odds of attending more selective 4-year colleges for some groups of students (African Americans, non-AP students, and possibly students from high college-planning high schools) are a concern, if they have persisted, particularly since more selective colleges have higher graduation rates and earnings. We think that this finding results from the program’s lack of emphasis on more selective colleges during the study period. If so, then it may have already changed because the program increasingly has focused on improving “college match” for higher achieving students in the past 2 years. 5 More speculatively, these results may suggest lessons for guidance counselors. Although it is often assumed that high school counselors do college advising as a major part of their responsibilities, counselors are assigned a multitude of other duties that can include course scheduling, personal or crisis counseling, tasks related to testing, school discipline, and hall or lunchroom monitoring. Coaches, on the other hand, devoted full time to college counseling during the study period. In addition, as discussed in the introduction and in further detail in qualitative research ( Naffziger, 2011 ; Stephan, forthcoming ), coaches use innovative advising strategies that may enable them to reach new kinds of students and provide important social resources. None of these strategies requires complex skills, and counselors could do them. In other words, if counselors or other staff had the time and provided the kinds of procedures and affected the kinds of college actions seen in this program, they might have comparable benefits. Of course, this is only a conjecture, but it is noteworthy because so little thought is given to alternate approaches to counseling that might better help underserved groups. The coach program also has potential drawbacks. First, it is reasonable to wonder whether a program that targets activities in senior year can be effective. College planning often begins by eighth grade ( Hossler, Schmit, & Vesper, 1999 ), admission to selective colleges requires planning and successfully completing a sequence of courses, and admission to a highly selective college requires a sustained involvement in extracurricular activities. Middle-class parents may help with strategically planning their children’s curricular or extracurricular choices over time ( Lareau & Weininger, 2008 ). In contrast, although coaches aspired to serve students at all grade levels, most of their activities and efforts were aimed at seniors. Beginning the process in senior year is very late, but senior year is clearly pivotal: Many decisions and actions must be taken then. A program that begins earlier could potentially have additional benefits, but this article suggests that a senior year program can have benefits, and it may be one cost-effective approach to improving some enrollment outcomes. Second, the coach program focuses on college enrollment and not on college completion. Completion rates are less than 60% overall and even lower for minority and low-SES students ( National Center for Education Statistics, 2012 ). One may wonder whether the coach program improves enrollment but leaves students unprepared to succeed at college. Coaches are aware of low completion rates and may direct students to colleges in which they believe students will have the best chance of success ( Naffziger, 2011 ). We do not have evidence, however, about the long-term program effects, and this is a potential limitation. At the same time, prior research shows that some students who qualify for selective colleges end up in community or unselective 4-year colleges because they do not know about college procedures, differences in institutional types, or how to pay for college ( Bowen, Chingos, & McPherson, 2009 ; Roderick et al., 2008 ). The coach program aims to address these knowledge gaps. Improving access to financial aid and academic preparation are important ways to improve the college enrollment outcomes of disadvantaged students, but policy should also consider other barriers. The enrollment process itself can reproduce social stratification. Whereas middle-class parents often supply the necessary knowledge, support, and monitoring for their children in the enrollment process, other children may falter on small details. Advising models that provide social resources in the application process, such as the college coach program, may potentially reduce social reproduction, helping disadvantaged students to make specific plans and take the requisite college actions to improve their educational attainment. Appendix A Comparison of Coach and Non-Coach Schools in 2004 (n = 58) Coach schools Non-coach schools Mean difference? M SD M SD p value Average ACT composite 16.4 2.3 15.3 1.0 .17 % limited English proficient 6.7 7.7 5.0 6.5 .51 % Asian 3.6 5.8 2.0 4.7 .42 % African American 49.9 45.4 66.8 36.5 .27 % Latino 39.3 41.6 24.9 28.0 .30 % White 6.7 8.9 6.1 11.2 .20 Attendance rate 85.9 3.5 85.0 4.6 .49 1-year dropout rate 11.8 6.1 13.1 6.4 .53 Graduation rate 70.5 7.2 72.2 14.7 .58 % low income 80.5 18.0 87.9 8.9 .21 Total enrollment 1772 446 1254 654 .00 Note . p value refers to a t test for mean differences (does not assume equal variances). Appendix B Three Most Frequently Attended Colleges by College Selectivity (class of 2007) Most Competitive University of Chicago Northwestern University New York University Highly Competitive University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Illinois Institute of Technology Miami University-Oxford Very Competitive DePaul University Loyola University Chicago Bradley University Competitive University of Illinois at Chicago Northern Illinois University Southern Illinois University-Carbondale Less Competitive DeVry University Columbia College Chicago East-West University Non-Competitive Northeastern Illinois University Mississippi Valley State University Grambling State University Special/Unrated Robert Morris College The Franciscan University School of the Art Institute of Chicago 2-Year City Colleges of Chicago-Wilbur Wright City Colleges of Chicago-Harold Washington City Colleges of Chicago-Kennedy-King Authors’ Note The authors thank Melissa Roderick, Jenny Nagaoka, Greg Darnieder, James Spillane, David Figlio, Michelle Naffziger, and Lisbeth Goble for their helpful comments on this work. Declaration of Conflicting Interests The authors declared no potential conflicts of interests with respect to the authorship and/or publication of this article. Funding The authors disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research and/or authorship of this article: Support was provided by grants from the Spencer Foundation, the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University, and the Multidisciplinary Program in Education Sciences at Northwestern University funded by the Institute for Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education (R305B040098). The opinions expressed here are solely those of the authors. 1. Some previous research in this area refers specifically to college-related social capital (e.g., González et al., 2003 ; Simmons, 2011 ). Here, we have chosen to use a more generic term, social resources , because building a case that coaches’ assistance constitutes social capital is outside the scope of this analysis. 2. We also estimated models using linear fixed effects regression with clustered standard errors with and without propensity weighting. Results were similar for most outcomes and most subgroups. We present the fixed effects logistic regression because the dependent variables are binary and not continuous (see Allison, 2005 ; Melguizo, 2010 ). 3. Consortium researchers and district officials report that the district began focusing more attention on college selectivity after the release of a report in 2008 by the Consortium on Chicago School Research. Since that time, which occurred after the study period, the coach program has implemented changes to target students who qualify for more selective colleges. 4. We are not suggesting that 4-year colleges are the only or even the best option for all students, but shifting enrollments to 4-year colleges was a goal of the coach program. 5. Other possible explanations for this result are as follows: (a) Coaches may think that helping a small group of students apply to more selective colleges (with longer applications) would take time away from helping the majority of students. (b) Working in groups, coaches may focus on less selective colleges, which most students attend (just 7% attend more selective 4-year colleges), and may worry that discussing more selective college procedures could discourage or confuse students considering less selective ones. (c) Coaches may focus on student–college fit on dimensions other than selectivity. (d) Coaches may recommend less selective colleges, believing that they offer students more financial aid ( Naffziger, 2011 ). Although the data do not allow investigation of these speculations, this negative finding raises important questions.
PY - 2013
Y1 - 2013
N2 - Despite planning college, disadvantaged students are less likely to enroll in college, particularly 4-year colleges. Beyond cost and academic achievement, previous research finds that a lack of college-related social resources poses barriers. However, little research investigates whether schools can help. We examine whether, how, and for whom a new counseling model aimed at providing college-related social resources may improve college enrollment. Following nearly all seniors in Chicago Public Schools from senior year through the fall after high school, we find that coaches may improve the types of colleges that students attend by getting students to complete key actions. It is important that the most disadvantaged students appear to benefit. This research suggests that targeting social resources may improve the high-school-to-college transition for disadvantaged students.
AB - Despite planning college, disadvantaged students are less likely to enroll in college, particularly 4-year colleges. Beyond cost and academic achievement, previous research finds that a lack of college-related social resources poses barriers. However, little research investigates whether schools can help. We examine whether, how, and for whom a new counseling model aimed at providing college-related social resources may improve college enrollment. Following nearly all seniors in Chicago Public Schools from senior year through the fall after high school, we find that coaches may improve the types of colleges that students attend by getting students to complete key actions. It is important that the most disadvantaged students appear to benefit. This research suggests that targeting social resources may improve the high-school-to-college transition for disadvantaged students.
KW - counseling
KW - postsecondary education
KW - social stratification
UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/record.url?scp=84877004168&partnerID=8YFLogxK
UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/citedby.url?scp=84877004168&partnerID=8YFLogxK
U2 - 10.3102/0162373712462624
DO - 10.3102/0162373712462624
M3 - Article
AN - SCOPUS:84877004168
VL - 35
SP - 200
EP - 219
JO - Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis
JF - Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis
SN - 0162-3737
IS - 2