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Chapter 5: College Knowledge

Chapter 5 examines the extent to which males and females across and within racial/ethnic groups have postsecondary aspirations, complete specific steps toward postsecondary enrollment, consult various sources for information about college, report the importance of specific factors in their decision to apply to and enroll in postsecondary institutions, and participate in college preparatory and awareness programs.

Students' aspirations to continue their education after high school are shaped by personal and environmental factors such as family and community expectations. In addition to parents' educational attainment, parental encouragement, socioeconomic status (SES), and students' academic abilities, the availability of resources—such as access to information and guidance—has also been associated with students' predispositions toward postsecondary education (Bers and Galowich 2002; Butner et al. 2001; Hossler, Schmit, and Vesper 1999; McDonough 1997). For example, research has shown that the association between SES and enrollment in 2- and 4-year postsecondary institutions is reduced when students are exposed to information and guidance about postsecondary education and complete specific steps of the postsecondary education search and decisionmaking process (i.e., visiting and applying to postsecondary institutions and exploring and applying for financial aid; Plank and Jordan 2001).

Often, low-income and first-generation students do not have the knowledge necessary to successfully transition from high school to a postsecondary institution. The entry process, which involves taking admissions tests, researching schools, and applying to and ultimately selecting a postsecondary institution, can be difficult for many first-generation students to navigate (Cabrera and La Nasa 2000; Roderick et al. 2008). Lacking the proper guidance and information about this process may be associated with lower postsecondary enrollment rates (Choy et al. 2000; Cunningham, Erisman, and Looney 2007; Horn and Chen 1998; Ishitani and Snider 2004; Kao and Tienda 1998; Plank and Jordan 2001; Venezia and Kirst 2005).

One of the first steps in the college application process is taking entrance exams. To increase their chances of success, some students complete various steps in preparation for exams such as the SAT or ACT. There is evidence that taking advantage of SAT/ACT preparation courses is associated with an increased likelihood of matriculation (e.g., Plank and Jordan 2001).

The extent to which students prepare for entrance exams may be associated with the number and type of postsecondary institutions they apply to while in high school. This decision may also be related to the informational resources available to students at school, at home, or in their community. Students who consult various sources—such as parents, teachers, guidance counselors, and individual institutions—for information about a postsecondary institution are more likely to attend a 2- or 4-year institution than those who do not seek out information from these sources (Bettinger, Long, Oreopoulos, and Sanbonmatsu 2009; Engberg and Wolniak 2010; Hill 2008; Horn and Chen 1998; Plank and Jordan 2001). There is evidence of a positive association between postsecondary enrollment and participating in college awareness programs that offer such assistance to students as providing academic support, career development, financial aid resources, and opportunities to visit campuses (Constantine et al. 2006; Johnson 1998).

Another important aspect of students' decisions about and predispositions toward postsecondary enrollment is their perception of costs and access to financial aid (Grodsky and Jones 2007; Horn, Chen, and Chapman 2003; King 2006; Terenzini, Cabrera, and Bernal 2001). Informing students about the availability of financial aid and assisting them with the process of applying for aid have been associated with increased postsecondary enrollment rates and financial aid applications (e.g., Bettinger et al. 2009; Constantine et al. 2006). When surveyed, students frequently cited financial aid and low expenses as "very important" factors in their postsecondary education selection process (Ingels and Dalton 2008). These factors have also been associated with greater postsecondary access and persistence (St. John, Paulsen, and Starkey 1996; Engberg and Wolniak 2010).