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Patches in the Leaky Pipeline: The Influences of School Contexts on Students' College Preparation and Choice

  • Author(s): Woods, Chenoa Summer
  • Advisor(s): Domina, Thurston
  • et al.

This dissertation is a mixed-methods examination of college preparation and choice as developed in three related yet independent studies. In light of the American Graduation Initiative and other current movements to increase college degree completion, this dissertation explores the relationships between schools' interventions, college-going culture, and personnel, and students' postsecondary preparation and plans. The first study assesses an early college intervention implemented in sixth grade classrooms. It finds that exposure to this treatment increases students' potential sources of college knowledge, students' conversations about college and careers, and increases in students' college knowledge. The second study uses data from seven high schools in one school district to explore student-school counselor interactions within various college-going cultures. The findings indicate that schools with broader views of postsecondary preparation have small negative or non-significant effects on completing key college preparation steps and four-year college plans, yet across contexts, students who meet with their school counselor for more college-related reasons have higher odds of progressing through the college preparation process. The last study of the dissertation explores access to higher-level coursework within the same school district. While some principals and school counselors are concerned about limiting access to Advanced Placement (AP) courses to prevent and reduce burnout, others act in ways to increase AP participation. However, results suggest that these practices do not consistently predict students' AP course and exam participation. Taken together, this dissertation highlights the need for early, clear, and consistent college information and opportunities to adequately prepare for college. Schools have the capacity to shape students' postsecondary trajectories and teachers, counselors, and interventions can patch the leaky educational pipeline.

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