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College choice and college success: The role of individuals, institutions and policy

Dissertation
Author: Lisbeth J. Goble
Abstract:
Choosing a college is one of the first important decisions that many young adults undertake. Popular media suggests how students should find an appropriate college based on traditional practices (Hallet, 2008; Kulman, 2007), yet, many aspects of the reality experienced by new kinds of students and colleges is largely ignored in the college choice literature. This dissertation addresses key components of the college choice process to provide empirically-based evidence about what matters for traditional college students. The first study considers the antecedents to college enrollment and specifically unplanned enrollments. It addresses how students use college-related information, changes in this information over high school, and its relation to diverted or realized college enrollments. Findings suggest that information use varies greatly. Certain sources have positive impacts on student follow-through on four-year college plans. Counselors are found to be particularly important for low-SES students in the realization of their college plans. The second study focuses on issues of accountability in higher education by addressing policymakers' suggestions of using institutional graduation rates as a college choice criterion. This chapter examines the assumptions on which the use of graduation rates is based and how they compare with empirical reality. While graduation rate is an appealing criterion, this study shows that using institutional graduation rate would provide misleading or useless advice for most individuals. Other institutional measures - percent part-time students and school selectivity (based on SAT scores) - may be more useful in predicting degree completion. The third study focuses on the role of college proximity in college choice. It provides descriptive analysis of students' preferences for college location, where students attend college and how these relate to the colleges they attend and ultimate degree completion. There is great variability in student preferences for college and how far students travel for college. While actual distance to college is not related to degree completion outcomes for most students, it is related to the types of colleges that students attend. However, the preference for location is actually related to degree completion: those who prefer to go away having increased chances degree completion.

TABLE OF CONTENTS ABSTRACT ................................................................................................................................ 2 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS ........................................................................................................ 4 LIST OF TABLES AND FIGURES ............................................................................................. 8 CHAPTER ONE – INTRODUCTION ..................................................................................... 11 BACKGROUND AND THEORETICAL FOUNDATIONS ..................................................................... 13 OVERVIEW OF STUDIES .............................................................................................................. 17 CHAPTER TWO – THE ROLE OF INFORMATION IN THE REALIZATION OF COLLEGE PLANS ..................................................................................................................... 21 BACKGROUND ............................................................................................................................ 26 DATA SOURCES .......................................................................................................................... 33 METHODS .................................................................................................................................. 37 RESULTS .................................................................................................................................... 39 CONCLUSION .............................................................................................................................. 49 LIMITATIONS .............................................................................................................................. 55 CHAPTER THREE – ACCOUNTABILITY IN HIGHER EDUCATION: DOES INSTITUTIONAL GRADUATION RATE INFLUENCE STUDENT OUTCOMES? ....... 58 BACKGROUND ............................................................................................................................ 61 DATA SOURCES .......................................................................................................................... 64 METHODS .................................................................................................................................. 69 RESULTS .................................................................................................................................... 70 CONCLUSION .............................................................................................................................. 81

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CHAPTER FOUR –

UNDERSTANDING THE ROLE OF COLLEGE PROXIMITY AND LOCATION PREFERENCES FOR COLLEGE CHOICE AND COLLEGE SUCCESS . 86 BACKGROUND ............................................................................................................................ 89 DATA SOURCES .......................................................................................................................... 95 METHODS ................................................................................................................................ 100 RESULTS .................................................................................................................................. 101 CONCLUSION ............................................................................................................................ 112 LIMITATIONS ............................................................................................................................ 116 CHAPTER FIVE – CONCLUSION ....................................................................................... 118 SUMMARY OF FINDINGS ........................................................................................................... 119 IMPLICATIONS FOR RESEARCH AND POLICY ............................................................................. 126 LIMITATIONS AND FUTURE DIRECTIONS .................................................................................. 132 TABLES AND FIGURES ........................................................................................................ 134 REFERENCES .......................................................................................................................... 184 APPENDIX ................................................................................................................................ 194

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LIST OF TABLES and FIGURES FIGURE 1.1: PERNA (2006) CONCEPTUAL MODEL OF COLLEGE CHOICE ................ 135

TABLE 2.1: 12TH GRADE PLANS COMPARED TO FIRST PSE ENROLLMENT DECISION (ONLY STUDENTS WITH BA PLANS) .............................................................. 136

TABLE 2.2: DESCRIPTIVE STATISTICS OF ELS ANALYTICAL SAMPLE .................... 137

FIGURE 2.1: COLLEGE-RELATED INFORMATION RESOURCES BY 10TH AND 12TH GRADE – COMPLETE SAMPLE ............................................................................................. 140

FIGURE 2.2: COLLEGE-RELATED INFORMATION RESOURCES BY 10TH AND 12TH GRADE – HIGH SES THIRD .................................................................................................... 140

FIGURE 2.3: COLLEGE-RELATED INFORMATION RESOURCES BY 10TH AND 12TH GRADE – MIDDLE SES THIRD .............................................................................................. 141

FIGURE 2.4: COLLEGE-RELATED INFORMATION RESOURCES BY 10TH AND 12TH GRADE – LOW SES THIRD..................................................................................................... 141

TABLE 2.2: DESCRIPTIVE STATISTICS OF ELS ANALYTICAL SAMPLE – INFORMATION VARIABLES – SES DIFFERENCES ........................................................... 142

TABLE 2.3: LOGISTIC REGRESSION OF COLLEGE-RELATED INFORMATION RESOURCES ON INDIVIDUAL AND INSTITUTIONAL CHARACTERISTICS: 10TH GRADE, BACHELORS DEGREE PLANNERS ...................................................................... 144

TABLE 2.4: LOGISTIC REGRESSION OF COLLEGE-RELATED INFORMATION RESOURCES ON INDIVIDUAL AND INSTITUTIONAL CHARACTERISTICS: 12TH GRADE, BACHELORS DEGREE PLANNERS ...................................................................... 146

FIGURE 2.5: ENROLLMENT ACTIONS BY INFORMATION SOURCES FOR THOSE WHO PLAN A BA AND IMMEDIATE ENROLLMENT IN A FOUR-YEAR COLLEGE IN 12TH GRADE ............................................................................................................................ 148

FIGURE 2.6: ENROLLMENT ACTIONS FOR USE OF COLLEGE PUBLICATION WEBSITE OR SEARCH ENGINES BY GRADE, SES............................................................ 149

TABLE 2.5: MULTINOMIAL LOGISTIC REGRESSION OF ENROLLMENT TYPE ON INDIVIDUAL ATTRIBUTES AND COLLEGE INFORMATION RESOURCES – COMPLETE SAMPLE ............................................................................................................... 150

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TABLE 2.6: MULTINOMIAL LOGISTIC REGRESSION OF ENROLLMENT TYPE ON INDIVIDUAL ATTRIBUTES AND COLLEGE INFORMATION RESOURCES – HIGH SES ..................................................................................................................................................... 152

TABLE 2.7: MULTINOMIAL LOGISTIC REGRESSION OF ENROLLMENT TYPE ON INDIVIDUAL ATTRIBUTES AND COLLEGE INFORMATION RESOURCES – MIDDLE SES ............................................................................................................................................. 154

TABLE 2.8: MULTINOMIAL LOGISTIC REGRESSION OF ENROLLMENT TYPE ON INDIVIDUAL ATTRIBUTES AND COLLEGE INFORMATION RESOURCES – LOW SES ..................................................................................................................................................... 156

TABLE 3.1: DESCRIPTIVE STATISTICS OF NELS ANALYTIC SAMPLE – FOUR-YEAR COLLEGE BY ACHIEVEMENT SUBGROUPS ..................................................................... 158

TABLE 3.2: DESCRIPTIVE STATISTICS FOR STUDENTS ATTENDING THE HIGHEST AND LOWEST THIRD GRADUATION RATE SCHOOLS .................................................. 160

TABLE 3.3: DESCRIPTIVE STATISTICS FOR STUDENTS ATTENDING THE HIGHEST AND LOWEST THIRD GRAD RATE SCHOOLS, BY ACHIEVEMENT THIRDS ............. 161

FIGURE 3.1: DEGREE COMPLETION (BA OR HIGHER) BY INSTITUTIONAL GRADUATION RATE QUINTILES......................................................................................... 162

TABLE 3.4: LOGISTIC REGRESSION OF INDIVIDUAL COLLEGE DEGREE COMPLETION ON INDIVIDUAL AND INSTITUTIONAL CHARACTERISTICS: FOUR- YEAR COLLEGE STUDENTS BY ACHIEVEMENT SUBGROUPS ................................... 163

TABLE 3.5: LOGISTIC REGRESSION OF INDIVIDUAL COLLEGE DEGREE COMPLETION ON INDIVIDUAL AND INSTITUTIONAL CHARACTERISTICS: FOUR- YEAR COLLEGE STUDENTS BY SAT MATCH COMPARISONS ..................................... 165

TABLE 3.6: LOGISTIC REGRESSION OF INDIVIDUAL GRADUATE SCHOOL ENROLLMENT OR FULL-TIME WORK ON INDIVIDUAL AND INSTITUTIONAL CHARACTERISTICS: FOUR-YEAR COLLEGE STUDENTS BY ACHIEVEMENT SUBGROUPS, COMPLETE SAMPLE .................................................................................... 167

TABLE 3.7: LOGISTIC REGRESSION OF INDIVIDUAL GRADUATE SCHOOL ENROLLMENT OR FULL-TIME WORK ON INDIVIDUAL AND INSTITUTIONAL CHARACTERISTICS: FOUR-YEAR COLLEGE STUDENTS BY ACHIEVEMENT SUBGROUPS, FEMALE SUBSAMPLE ................................................................................. 169

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TABLE 3.8: LOGISTIC REGRESSION OF INDIVIDUAL GRADUATE SCHOOL ENROLLMENT OR FULL-TIME WORK ON INDIVIDUAL AND INSTITUTIONAL CHARACTERISTICS: FOUR-YEAR COLLEGE STUDENTS BY ACHIEVEMENT SUBGROUPS, MALE SUBSAMPLE ...................................................................................... 171

TABLE 4.1: NELS SAMPLE DESCRIPTIVE STATISTICS) ................................................ 173

TABLE 4.2: DESCRIPTIVE STATISTICS OF COLLEGE PROXIMITY PREFERENCES BY STUDENTS AND PARENTS .................................................................................................. 174

TABLE 4.3: PARENT AND STUDENT PREFERENCE BY DISTANCE TRAVELLED ... 176

TABLE 4.4: PROPORTION OF STUDENTS TRAVELING VARIOUS DISTANCES TO COLLEGE BY ATTRIBUTES ................................................................................................. 177

FIGURE 4.1: DISTANCE TRAVELED TO COLLEGE BY COLLEGE SELECTIVITY ..... 179

FIGURE 4.2: PERCENT COMPLETING BA OR HIGHER BY LOCATION PREFERENCES – COMPLETE SAMPLE ........................................................................................................... 179

FIGURE 4.3: PERCENT COMPLETING BA OR HIGHER BY LOCATION PREFERENCES AND SES THIRDS..................................................................................................................... 180

FIGURE 4.4: PERCENT COMPLETING BA OR HIGHER BY LOCATION PREFERENCES AND RACE GROUPS ............................................................................................................... 180

TABLE 4.5: MULTINOMIAL LOGISTIC REGRESSION OF COLLEGE SELECTIVITY ON INDIVIDUAL ATTRIBUTES AND COLLEGE PROXIMITY – .......................................... 181

TABLE 4.6: LOGISTIC REGRESSION OF INDIVIDUAL COLLEGE DEGREE COMPLETION ON INDIVIDUAL ATTRIBUTES ................................................................ 182

TABLE 4.7: LOGISTIC REGRESSION OF INDIVIDUAL COLLEGE DEGREE COMPLETION ON INDIVIDUAL ATTRIBUTES - SES THIRDS ....................................... 183

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CHAPTER ONE – INTRODUCTION

Choosing a college is one of the first important decisions that many young adults undertake. Popular media suggests how students should find an appropriate college based on traditional practices (Hallet, 2008; Kulman, 2007), yet, the reality experienced by new kinds of students and colleges is largely ignored in the academic literature on college choice. These assumptions extend to high schools, where qualitative interviews with high school counselors identify common sense assumptions about how students should choose colleges. However, these common sense rules, such as going away for college or attending smaller schools, are rarely supported by empirical research. Instead of directing students towards college based on intuition, it would be useful to know which components of college choice are empirically related to student success and if this varies for different types of students. This dissertation addresses several key components of the college choice process to provide empirically-based evidence about what matters for college choice for traditional college students. The financial and developmental benefits of post-secondary education have been well- documented (Ellwood & Kane, 2000; Kane & Rouse, 1995; Marcotte, Bailey, Borkoski, & Kienzl, 2005; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005). Moreover, growth in the postsecondary sector and availably of open-admission colleges has created an environment of ‗college-for-all‘. Recent data suggests that now nearly all high school seniors plan to go to college (Adelman, 2003; Ingels & Dalton, 2008; Rosenbaum, 2001). Yet, with all the options now available making an informed decision among the many choices to find a college that fits a student‘s needs and abilities is a challenge for many. Roderick and colleagues (2008) find that over sixty percent of high school seniors in a large urban school district have a ―mismatch‖ between their

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qualifications and school quality 1 . Calling this mismatch ‗incongruence,‘ Tinto (1993) finds it has implications for both persistence and degree completion suggesting that over 75% of students who do not persist in college do so not for academic reasons, but as a result of issues with ‗fit‘. As a growing number of students enroll in college (Adelman, 2003), many new types of students are entering post-secondary institutions for the first time (Stephan and Rosenbaum, 2009b). Roderick‘s findings are isolated to Chicago, but with over 5,000 two- and four-year institutions (Snyder et al, 2008), the rate of mismatch is likely to be large nationally as well. And, despite these growths in enrollment, completion rates remain stagnant (Adelman, 2003). By and large, students are able to choose and enroll in a college – over eighty percent of high school seniors enroll in a college within eight years of high school graduation (Rosenbaum, 2001). Yet, many students do not gain the benefits associated with completing a post-secondary degree, with less than 50 percent students complete a bachelors degree (Adelman, 2003). Access to college may still be a barrier for some students (Hurtado, Inkelas, Briggs and Rhee, 1997; Perna, 2006; Perna & Titus, 2005), however, reflecting high student aspirations, policy discussions are starting to shift from getting students into college to helping students succeed once in college (Nagaoka, Roderick & Coca, 2008). As implied by Tinto (1993) college choice can have substantial implications for how successful students are once they enroll in college. However the relationship between the college choice process and student outcomes is rarely examined empirically (Terenzini, Cabrera & Bernal, 2001). Clearly students have constraints on their choices, including achievement, financing, and family obligations (Avery & Hoxby, 2004; Cabrera & La Nasa, 2001; Paulsen & St. John, 2002;

1 They compare students‘ GPA and ACT scores with the selectivity of the college they attend

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Perna, 2005). We need to have a better understanding of how students negotiate the college choice process, particularly for those who are likely to have barriers to college access (low- income, first-generation or low achieving students, for example). This research can assist them in finding colleges to match their needs and ultimately lead them to realize a college degree. Knowing which type of information is beneficial is necessary before we can have policy discussions about improving students‘ college choices and ultimately improving degree completion rates. The goal of this dissertation is to address three specific components of college choice and link their influence to college enrollment and success for students who enroll through traditional pathways. First, does the use of certain types of college-related information help students to avoid diverted enrollments? Second, does a measure proposed by accountability advocates (institutional graduation rate) warrant use as a college choice mechanism above and beyond factors students already use? Third, do location preferences and distance to college matter for the quality of colleges students attend and their likelihood of degree completion? Taken together, the three studies address important, previously understudied, components of the college choice process. Background and Theoretical Foundations Going to college involves navigating a set of complex issues, linked by actions of individuals, institutions and policy. Economists and sociologists have examined issues of college choice independently focusing on human capital and social attainment, respectively (Hearn, 1984; Manski & Wise, 1983; McDonough, 1997). However more comprehensive models recognize that this process is a combination of both economic and sociological issues (Cabrera

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and La Nasa, 2000; Hossler, Braxton & Coopersmith, 1989; Hossler & Gallagher, 1987; Perna, 2006). Hossler and Gallagher (1987) propose the most often cited, and most simplistic, model of college choice, which consists of three stages – predisposition, search, and choice. The first step, predisposition, occurs between grades 7 and 9 and involves developing a desire to want to go to college. Search, occurring between 10 th and 12 th grade, is the process by which students gather information and compile a ―choice set‖. Choice, occurring in grades 11 and 12, is the final phase of the process whereby students evaluate their choice set and select a specific school. While Hossler and Gallagher (1987) provide a high-level approach to college choice, more recent research reflects complexities beyond three discrete stages and address the context in which college choices are made (Cabrera & La Nasa, 2000; Perna, 2005; Stephan & Rosenbaum, 2009a). Stephan and Rosenbaum (2009a) propose a more dynamic model than Hossler and Gallagher (1987) that reflects the intermediate events between these three stages and the specific actions that are required to make college plans a reality. Roderick and colleagues (2006) have documented the phenomena of ‗no-shows‘, where student indicate college plans in senior year, yet do not actually enroll in a college. This finding suggests that college choice is not an isolated process that occurs during high school and ends at ‗choice‘. To conduct a successful college search, choice has to be realized through college enrollment. Stephan and Rosenbaum‘s (2009a) model recognizes this and, stemming from both qualitative and quantitative data, their model posits four stages in college choice: general plans, college actions, specific plans and enrollment.

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This model assumes a more complex process of choice as well as considers outcomes beyond the choice of a college. Perna (2006) further extends and modifies Hossler‘s three-stage model to consider the more contemporary influences of college choice and higher education. While both models incorporate human, social and cultural capital approaches to college choice, Perna‘s (2006) is a more explicit delineation of the factors and contexts that contribute to college choice. Replicated in Figure 1.1, Perna‘s model (2006) uses a four-layered approach with the ―habitus‖ at the center of the model surrounded by the second layer of ―school and community context‖. The third layer is the context of higher education and the final layer encompasses the ―social, economic and policy context‖. Perna‘s model is both broader and more explicit than the one Hossler puts forth. It is more flexible, particularly when we consider changing populations of students pursuing higher education in recent decades (Cabrera & La Nasa, 2000; Hurtado, et al., 1997). These models provide the overarching theoretical framework for this dissertation. Within Hossler‘s (1987) model, all three phases are addressed to some extent. Stephan and Rosenbaum‘s (2009a) model is addressed by linking choice factors to student outcomes, such as enrollment and degree completion. All four contexts of Perna‘s (2006) model will be addressed in the studies to some degree, but the primary focus will be on the individual and school levels. Implications that exist for higher levels of the model, particularly institutional attributes and policy will also be highlighted. It is also important to note that these models primarily reflect students who conduct their college search through traditional pathways, specifically those who enroll right after high school.

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While these models address the contexts and complexities of college choice, with the exception of Stephan and Rosenbaum (2009a), they exist independent of any connection to subsequent college outcomes and provide little understanding of the mechanisms or implications of specific components of choice. Literature on college success has largely been examined in the framework of status attainment models (Alexander & Eckland, 1974; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005; Sewell & Shah, 1967), which speaks to the relationships between various ascribed (such parent income and race) and attained factors (like education levels). However, more recent research recognizes that student success exists within the context of the institutions they attend (Bailey, Calcagno, Jenkins, Leinbach & Kienzl, 2005; Goble, Rosenbaum & Stephan, 2009; Titus, 2004) and are not solely based on individual attributes. Studies that address both individual and institutions have the potential to speak to ways that better college choices could be made. For instance, looking at individuals enrolled in two- year colleges, Goble, Rosenbaum and Stephan (2009) show that a higher percentage of part-time students at a school decreases the odds of degree completion, even for a student who is enrolled full-time. This finding not only has implications for how a college might help students make enrolling full-time feasible, but also for prospective students. If that student knows that a high proportion of part-time students decreases their odds of completing a degree, then they can make a more informed choice about where to enroll. Unfortunately, links such as these are overlooked in the literature, so that students are left to make their college choices based on what might be false assumptions. Given that students have the potential to make irrational college choices (Bloom, 2007; DesJardins and Toutkoushian, 2004) and that students may have gross misunderstandings about the complexities of going to college (Bloom, 2007; Roderick et al,

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2008; Rosenbaum, Hallberg, Stephan, Goble & Naffziger, 2009), understanding the role of both individuals and institutions is critical. This dissertation consists of three separate, but interrelated studies that address some of these complex issues related to college choice. Little is known about how specific attributes of college choice relate to students outcome and there is even lesser consensus about what matters. For instance, does information from certain sources relate to successful enrollments? Does going to a school with a higher institutional graduation rate increase an individual‘s odds of completing a degree? And does going away for college help or hurt college outcomes? The current studies use a combination of national data sets to analyze these questions. Recognizing that there is increasing heterogeneity in the types of students who enroll in college, even among those enrolling in traditional ways, subgroups of students are further emphasized. The three studies have implications not only for how students choose colleges, but how high schools, counselors and parents can help to guide students to better college decisions and how colleges can better help students to succeed once in college, all of which have broader implications for policy and practice. Overview of Studies College-related Information and Diverted Enrollments: The first study begins by considering the antecedents to college enrollment and specifically unplanned enrollments. Most students plan to complete a bachelors degree at some point, however, some of these students initially enroll in two-year colleges or do not enroll at all (Ingels & Dalton, 2008). The literature identifies these students as being ‗diverted‘ (Leigh & Gill, 2003; Leigh & Gill, 2004; Rouse, 1995). Information is critical in helping high school seniors transition to careers (Rosenbaum,

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2001), however, research has overlooked the intersection of information and college enrollment outcomes. The theoretical models of college choice reflect an implicit understanding that students gather information from various sources and research highlights the influence of certain individuals (Choy & Ottinger, 1998; Galotti & Mark, 1994; McDonough, 1997; Perna & Titus, 2005). Furthermore, recent research on financial aid information and enrollments suggest that simple information may have a large impact on student outcomes (Bettinger, Long, Oreopoulous & Sanbonmastu, 2008). Using the Education Longitudinal Study (ELS), this study addresses how students use college-related information, how this changes over high school and how this information subsequently relates to diverted or realized college enrollments. Accountability Measures and Students Success: The second study focuses on issues of accountability in higher education by addressing policymakers‘ suggestions of using institutional graduation rates as a college choice criterion. The Secretary of Education‘s Commission on the Future of Higher Education sought to provide information about colleges‘ "institutional graduation rate," and the higher education accountability movement continues to promote the use of this indicator (e.g., the Education Trust, www.collegeresults.org). Grounded in the sociological assumption that institutions matter, the belief behind this push is that students could improve their chances of getting a degree if they choose colleges with higher institutional graduation rates (U.S. Department of Education, 2006). The idea that a simple indicator such as graduation rate, however imperfect 2 , can be used to inform college choice is appealing. Using the National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS) and the Integrated Postsecondary Data System (IPEDS) data, this chapter examines the assumptions on which the use of graduation

2 See Astin & Oseguera, 2002; Bailey, et al, 2005; Bailey, et al, 2006; Goble, Person, & Rosenbaum, 2007; Horn, 2006; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991, 2005; Titus, 2004

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rates is based and how they compare with empirical reality. Furthermore, it addresses how an individual‘s chances of degree completion are related to institutional measures of graduation rate for different types of students. Location Preferences, College Proximity, College Choice and College Success: The last study focuses on one specific component of college choice – college proximity. Like many factors in college choice, there are common sense assumptions about how distance is related to later student success. Students who stay home (or near to home) for college have fewer financial constraints and may have increased emotional support from family. But, they may lack social integration with the college community, particularly if students commute from home. Students who go away to college may benefit from the increased autonomy realized by leaving home. Having chosen from a wider array of colleges, they may also have a better institutional match to their interests and perhaps attend more selective college. Despite these intuitions, little work has empirically tested these assumptions or how even something as simple as a preference for distance (or not) might relate to student outcomes. Furthermore, the existing literature neglects simple descriptions of the variations in how far students actually travel for college. Using students from the National Education Longitudinal Survey (NELS) and linking this to the Common Core of Data (CCD) and the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), this chapter provides descriptive analysis of students‘ preferences for college location, where students go to college and how these relate to the colleges they attend and ultimate degree completion.

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The final chapter provides an integrative summary of the dissertation findings. Implications of these studies for policy, practice and research will be highlighted as well as limitations and potential future directions for this line of research.

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CHAPTER TWO – THE ROLE OF INFORMATION IN THE REALIZATION OF COLLEGE PLANS Access to college has become a reality for most who want to go. However, choosing a college can be overwhelming for all types of students. Students from advantaged backgrounds, academically or socioeconomically, are pressured by the prospect of choosing the ―right‖ or ―best‖ college. More disadvantaged students must find schools that fit their needs either academically or financially to help them realize the benefits of a college education. With the wealth of college-related information available, it can be hard to know where to start. Recent research suggests something as simple as a single piece of paper with financial aid information may have an impact on student outcomes (Destin, & Oyserman 2009; Bettinger, Long, Oreopolous, & Sanbonmatsu, 2009). It has also been shown that certain information sources are crucial when students search for jobs after high school (Rosenbaum, 2001). However, there is little empirical knowledge about what information sources are most beneficial in the college choice process. Nor do we know how different types of students access different types of information. With over 5000 two- and four-year colleges to choose from in the United States, there is much information for students to gather and evaluate. With technological advances, such as the Internet, obtaining this information is much easier than in the past. In fact, recent data suggests that 94 percent of public schools in 2005 had instruction rooms with internet access and 100 percent had, at the very least, internet access in their school (Wells, Lewis & Greene, 2006). Among students in 9 th through 12 th graders in 2003, Internet usage was nearly 80 percent and computer use was 97 percent (DeBell & Chapman, 2006).

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In addition, students may receive information from family, friends, teachers, counselors and others. Theoretical models of college choice highlight multiple factors related to the college choice process: academic preparation, finances, family background, among others (Hossler & Gallagher, 1987; Hossler, Braxton & Coopersmith, 1989; Perna 2006). Implicit in these models is the gathering of information about college in general, as well as about specific colleges. Providing information is one of the few components of the college search process that is not fixed. Yet the college choice literature rarely considers this issue. Moreover, despite the numerous information sources available to students, many students do not realize their college plans. Simple analyses indicate that students‘ plans do not necessarily predict their actual course of action. An analysis of high school seniors in 2004 (table 2.1) suggests that a majority of students who first enroll in two-year colleges stated plans to enroll at a four-year college in their senior year of high school. Sixty percent of students who enrolled at two-year colleges planned on attending a four-year college. Moreover, for students who first planned on attending two-year colleges, nearly a third (31%) did not enroll in a post-secondary institution immediately after high school graduation. Since plans may guide students‘ efforts and preparation, such mismatches not only indicate disappointments, but may also indicate failures to prepare for their eventual outcomes. This leads to questions of how we might help these individuals realize their college plans. Post-secondary literature classifies these students as ‗diverted‘. Diversion effects studies focus on students who enroll in unplanned colleges and more specifically those who plan four- year college and enroll in two-year colleges (Brint & Karabel, 1989; Kane & Rouse, 1999; Leigh

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& Gill, 2003; Leigh & Gill, 2004; Rouse, 1995). More generally, this can be understood as changes that happen in the time between when a student makes a plan for college and when they actually enroll in a college. While research has shown the incidence of these effects, we know very little about why these unintended enrollments occur, how they are related to information sources, or how they might be prevented. Research addresses how these unrealized plans translate to lower degree completion and lesser labor market outcomes (Alfonso, 2004; Brint & Karabel 1989; Dougherty, 1994; Doyle, 2008; Kane & Rouse, 1999; Rouse, 1995), but neglects to address the mechanism through which diversion might be prevented, such as information. As suggested, students talk to parents, peers, teachers and counselors, among others. They look at college websites and guidebooks. They attend college fairs and talk to college representatives. These interactions are likely to have implications for how students develop and realize their college plans or if they become diverted. Beyond degree completion and labor market outcomes, becoming a diverted student may have other unintended consequences. For instance, a student planning on a four-year college that is diverted to a two-year college may be unaware of enrollment deadlines or placement test requirements, making their post-secondary transition more tenuous. A student who does not enroll in college may have little guidance in conducting a subsequent job search. Ideally, we want to minimize the number of students diverted to help avoid these potential downfalls. This paper aims to build upon the diversion effects literature to better understand how student might better follow through on their plans through the use of college information resources. Information can be addressed from two perspectives. First, when in the search process is information obtained? Hossler, Braxton and Coopersmith (1989) suggests that the college

Full document contains 199 pages
Abstract: Choosing a college is one of the first important decisions that many young adults undertake. Popular media suggests how students should find an appropriate college based on traditional practices (Hallet, 2008; Kulman, 2007), yet, many aspects of the reality experienced by new kinds of students and colleges is largely ignored in the college choice literature. This dissertation addresses key components of the college choice process to provide empirically-based evidence about what matters for traditional college students. The first study considers the antecedents to college enrollment and specifically unplanned enrollments. It addresses how students use college-related information, changes in this information over high school, and its relation to diverted or realized college enrollments. Findings suggest that information use varies greatly. Certain sources have positive impacts on student follow-through on four-year college plans. Counselors are found to be particularly important for low-SES students in the realization of their college plans. The second study focuses on issues of accountability in higher education by addressing policymakers' suggestions of using institutional graduation rates as a college choice criterion. This chapter examines the assumptions on which the use of graduation rates is based and how they compare with empirical reality. While graduation rate is an appealing criterion, this study shows that using institutional graduation rate would provide misleading or useless advice for most individuals. Other institutional measures - percent part-time students and school selectivity (based on SAT scores) - may be more useful in predicting degree completion. The third study focuses on the role of college proximity in college choice. It provides descriptive analysis of students' preferences for college location, where students attend college and how these relate to the colleges they attend and ultimate degree completion. There is great variability in student preferences for college and how far students travel for college. While actual distance to college is not related to degree completion outcomes for most students, it is related to the types of colleges that students attend. However, the preference for location is actually related to degree completion: those who prefer to go away having increased chances degree completion.