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Examining the High School-to-College Transitions of Chicago Public School Students

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While college attendance, persistence, and completion has consistently increased since the 1970s, increases in attainment were greater for students from high-income families compared their low-income counterparts. As a result, low-income students are the least likely to attend or complete college. While college costs and poorer academic preparation are often barriers to college enrollment, disadvantaged students encounter other challenges in the high-school-to-college transition. To investigate the transition for disadvantaged students, this dissertation utilizes administrative and survey data from a cohort of seniors enrolled in Chicago Public Schools (CPS), a predominantly low-income, minority, and first-generation district. The first study examines peer context, namely the academic strength of classmates, and its relationship to math coursework, educational aspirations, and college application choices. While some prior research showed that there might be some “hidden risks” to having more talented peers, this research finds benefits of having peers with higher levels of academic achievement in this context. The second study investigates CPS’s work to encourage students to take three key college actions: applying to three or more colleges, completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and applying to three or more scholarships. Analyses find that the majority of students apply to three or more colleges and complete the FAFSA, and further, these actions are associated with better postsecondary enrollment outcomes. Overall, the findings suggest that students should primarily focus on college applications and FAFSA rather than the uncertain payoff of scholarship applications. The final study aims to understand the institutional attributes that are attractive to CPS students when making enrollment decisions. Using conditional logistic regression models, analyses find that students are attracted to institutions that are closer to home, have lower tuition costs, are an “academic match” to their own qualifications, and are at the high or low end of the selectivity spectrum. While recent research has focused on the propensity of low-income students to “undermatch” based on their academic qualifications, these analyses point to the importance of taking into consideration a number of institutional, non-academic characteristics when trying to understand students’ enrollment choices.

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  • 04/29/2019
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