Access & Persistence: Findings From 10 Years of Longitudinal
Research on Students
The purpose of this report was to use data from three federally sponsored
national longitudinal surveys of students to ascertain which students
persist towards their degrees and what happens to students after they enroll
in college. The three federally sponsored surveys are the National
Education Longitudinal Study (NELS), the Beginning Postsecondary Student
(BPS) Longitudinal Study, and the Baccalaureate and Beyond (B&B) Study.
Detailed descriptions of these studies can be found at http://nces.ed.gov.
KEY POINTS FROM THE REPORT
College Students Today
- Women now make up 55% of the undergraduate student body compared
with earlier years when men dominated postsecondary enrollment. Men,
however, still dominate in fields such as the physical sciences, computer
sciences, and engineering.
- Minority attendance at four-year institutions is approximately 30%, up
from 20% in 1989-90. Hispanic and African American students are not
proportionally represented within the college-age population.
- Twenty percent of undergraduates are born outside of the United States
or have at least one foreign born parent, with 11% speaking a language other
than English in their home.
- Only 40% of today's students fit the "traditional" student definition.
Enrolling fulltime in college directly after graduating from high school
with their parents taking care of most of their financial
- Working while attending school and waiting to enroll post high school
are increasingly common among today's college students. Seventy-seven
percent of college students at four-year institutions work with 59%
averaging 23 hours per week.
Access to College
- Family influence was a strong indicator of a young person's
likelihood of attending a four-year institution. The likelihood of
attending increased with the level of parents' education.
- Peers had a strong influence on at-risk students attending college.
More at-risk students applied to college if their friends planned to attend.
- Curricular choices in high school also had a strong influence on
attending college. Specifically, a strong math curriculum can moderate the
effects of parents' education on college enrollment.
- The cost of attending college was a significant obstacle for both
middle- and low-income students with financial aid moderating this obstacle
to some extent.
- Families must make an annual income of approximately $70,000 to afford
a public four-year institution without financial aid and at least $100,000
for a private.
- On average aid to low-income families in 1995-96 covered approximately
two-thirds of their higher education budget.
Staying in School
- Institutional rates greatly understated postsecondary persistence,
which factors in transfers and those who persist beyond five years.
- Choices and experiences that influenced students' persistence include:
- Enrollment in a rigorous high school program rather than
a basic high school curriculum (87% versus 62% persistence).
- Enrollment at a community college to save costs does not increase the
likelihood of achieving a four-year degree. Fifty-seven percent of students
who started at four-year institutions achieved their degree compared with 8%
of students who started at a community college in the same year. However,
when bachelor degree seeking students did transfer to a four-year
institution their persistence rate was the same as students who initially
entered the four-year institution.
- The annual attrition rate for non-traditional students is higher than
traditional students, but the gap narrowed over time.
- Both attending part time and working more than 15 hours per week reduced
the likelihood of persistence.
- Borrowing increased the likelihood of persistence, by reducing the need
- First generation college students were twice as likely to leave before
students with a college educated parent (23% versus
Time to Degree
- The longer a student took to earn a degree the more costly the
education was to both the student and the institution.
- Thirty-six percent of students earned a bachelor degree in four years,
and 28% in five years.
- Thirty-seven percent of those students attended more than one
institution, and 48% took a break of at least four months.
- Fifty-one percent of graduates that stayed at their first institution
finished in four years, and 80% in five years.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR PRACTICE
The author suggests the following recommendations for practice.
- Understanding the changing demographics of today's college student
is essential in appreciating the nuances of access and persistence.
- Awareness of students' choices and experiences that influence
persistence can lead to better support for students.
- College programs designed to keep nontraditional students in school
might be most effective in the first-year.
- Graduates who stay at their first institution have higher persistence
- Advising students that opting for an easier schedule in high school is
not likely to be beneficial.
- Motivating potential first generation college students before high
school might help in deterring the effect of parents' level of education on
- Students need not be discouraged form borrowing reasonable amounts to
finance their education in place of working.
Choy, S. P. (2002). Access & persistence: Findings from 10 years of
longitudinal research on students. Washington, DC: American Council on
Education Center for Policy Analysis.
Submitted by R.M. Johnson, March 2004. This is a report summary and
excerpts are quoted directly from the text.