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Statistical Analysis Report:

Confronting the Odds: Students At Risk and the Pipeline to Higher Education

December 1997

(NCES 98-094) Ordering information


The purpose of this report is twofold. First, it aims to understand the critical junctures in the pipeline to college enrollment where at-risk high school graduates leave at substantially higher rates than their counterparts not at risk. Second, it identifies factors that contribute to at-risk students' successful navigation of the pipeline to college enrollment.

Students at risk were defined as 1992 high school graduates who had risk characteristics that increased their chances of dropping out of high school. These included being from a single parent household, having an older sibling who dropped out of high school, changing schools two or more times other than the normal progression (e.g., from elementary to middle school), having C's or lower grades between sixth and eighth grades, being from a low socioeconomic status (SES) family, or repeating an earlier grade.

The pipeline analysis compares students at risk with their counterparts not at risk according to their progression through five steps to college enrollment. The five steps that make up the col-lege pipeline include: aspirations for a bachelor's degree (step 1), academic preparation for col-lege (step 2), taking entrance exams (step 3), applying to college (step 4), and enrolling (step 5). The proportion of students at each step are those who completed all the preceding steps.

Pipeline to College

Comparisions Among At-Risk Students

At-risk students who progressed through the college pipeline and enrolled in a four-year college were compared with their at-risk peers who either enrolled in a subbaccalaureate degree institution or did not pursue further education. Comparisons were made in three areas: completion of math "gatekeeping" courses, obtaining school assistance in applying to college, and activities and behaviors associated with student, parent, and peer engagement in school activities. The analysis was limited to at-risk students who completed the first two steps of the pipeline (aspired to a bachelor's degree and were at least minimally prepared for admission to a four-year college).

Math Course Taking

School Assistance in Application Process

Student, Parent, and Peer Engagement

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