The Impact of High School Socioeconomic Composition on College Enrollment, Persistence, and Graduation: A Multilevel Multiple Group Analysis
Since Equality of Educational Opportunity was published in 1966, evidence has accumulated supporting the Coleman Report’s original finding that socioeconomically-segregated schools depress educational outcomes. Research over the past half century indicates that the socioeconomic composition (SEC) of a school – as measured by the average socioeconomic status (SES) of its students – is associated with student achievement and attainment above and beyond individual SES. In the context of growing income inequality and rising neighborhood and school segregation across the country, this study addressed gaps in the school effectiveness literature by examining the relationship between high school SEC and sequential outcomes of college enrollment, persistence, and graduation. Drawing on a nationally-representative sample of public high school students from the Educational Longitudinal Study of 2002, this quantitative study employed a multilevel multiple group analysis approach to unpack the SEC effect by investigating differential effects across SEC settings and the mechanisms through which SEC is theorized to impact student outcomes. Results indicate that high school SEC has a robust association with success along the entire college pipeline; students who attended higher SEC schools were more likely to enroll at 4-year institutions than not enroll (ES = .16), to enroll at 4-year than 2-year institutions (ES = .19), to persist into the third year (ES = .10), and to ultimately graduate with a bachelor’s degree (ES = .13). Effect sizes were consistent for students regardless of individual SES. The distal effect of SEC was due in part to its indirect effect through mediating factors of college readiness and institutional start level. SEC could be partially explained by the underlying mechanisms of peer influences and school practices – especially the effect of close friends and the normative peer environment. Overall, the findings from this study suggest that addressing the negative long-term impact of class-based school segregation on college access and completion necessitates the integration of public schools along socioeconomic lines.