Among students who enrolled in postsecondary education for the first time in 199596, about one-third had waited a year or more after graduating from high school to attend.1 Students who delay their postsecondary enrollment may do so for numerous reasons. Some may not be academically prepared to attend or have the financial resources necessary to enroll. Others may serve in the military first, find employment, or start a family before enrolling. Students who delay enrollment for a long period of time are likely to enroll to advance in or change their careers. For whatever reasons students wait to enroll in college, those who do delay are at considerable risk of not completing a postsecondary credential when compared with their peers who enroll immediately after high school graduation (Carroll 1989; Tuma and Geis 1995; Berkner, Cuccaro-Alamin, and McCormick 1996; Horn 1996; Berkner, He, and Forrest Cataldi 2002). However, it may not be entirely appropriate to compare the outcomes of delayed entrants with those who attend college right after high school. This study shows that the two groups differ in many respects, especially in their academic preparation for college and their educational objectives. Furthermore, delayed entrants are not a homogeneous group. Students who delay postsecondary enrollment may range in age from 18 to 80,2 and those who delay a short amount of time may have very different reasons for enrolling than those who delay a decade or more.
The purpose of this report is to provide a profile of students who delay their postsecondary enrollment and then to distinguish among students who delay their postsecondary enrollment with respect to how long they wait to enroll. In particular, it addresses the ways in which those who delay a shorter amount of time differ from those who delay longer in terms of their demographic characteristics, why they enroll, where they enroll, the types of programs or degrees they pursue, and their likelihood of earning a credential.
The data used for this study come from three sources. The 19992000 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS:2000) is used to provide a snapshot of the demographic and postsecondary enrollment characteristics of all undergraduates who delay enrollment. The National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS:88/2000) is used to examine the high school academic preparation of 1992 high school graduates who delayed postsecondary enrollment, and the 1996/01 Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (BPS:96/01) is used to analyze the experiences of delayed entrants in their first postsecondary enrollment with respect to how long they waited to enroll and how likely they were to complete their postsecondary education.
The key variable in this study is an indicator of whether students delayed their postsecondary enrollment. The variable was computed by subtracting the calendar year of high school graduation from the calendar year of postsecondary enrollment.3 Students who do not delay their enrollment are typically those who graduate from high school in June and enroll in postsecondary education the following September. However, because the delayed enrollment variable is derived only from the calendar years of the two points in time, a small percentage of cases (about 2 percent) are coded as having delayed 1 year when the length of delay is actually less than a year, typically a semester.
The analysis uses standard t tests to determine statistical significance of differences between estimates, one-way Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) to detect trends and to control for multiple paired comparisons, and a multivariate analysis to control for the common variation of related independent variables. All differences noted in the text are statistically significant at the p < .05 level. (See Research Methodology for more information about data and methods.) The analysis presented in this report is entirely descriptive in nature. While associations are noted and discussed, no causal inferences should be made.
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