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Chapter 6: Postsecondary Education

Chapter 6 investigates male and female differences (across and within racial/ethnic groups) on a variety of postsecondary enrollment, persistence, and attainment indicators. These measures include pathways to postsecondary education, price of attendance and financial aid, enrollment intensity, reasons for leaving without completing a degree or certificate program, remedial coursetaking, academic and social integration, and college student employment.

Lower rates of persistence and attainment have been associated with a number of precollegiate and collegiate factors (NCES 2008). For example, Pascarella and Terenzini (2005) discuss a consistent finding in the literature that delayed entry into postsecondary education after high school is associated with lower likelihoods of college persistence and degree attainment. Another study by NCES lists delayed entry as one of the seven major risk factors for college persistence and attainment (Berkner, Cuccaro-Alamin, and McCormick 1996). Other factors associated with lower student persistence include weak academic preparation for college, part-time enrollment and interruptions in enrollment continuity, low levels of interaction with faculty and little participation in school activities, working more than 15 hours a week while enrolled, and beginning at a 2-year community college instead of a 4-year institution. Studies that show some of these associations include Whitaker and Pascarella (1994), which examined degree attainment 14 years after graduating from high school. They found that first attending a 2-year postsecondary institution was negatively associated with degree attainment, after controlling for precollege differences in student background characteristics (e.g., gender, race/ethnicity, age, socioeconomic status, high school achievement, and involvement in extracurricular activities). Studies on stopping out (temporarily interrupting enrollment) have shown students with interruptions in enrollment intensity take longer to complete a degree program and that stopping out is associated with a reduced likelihood of degree completion (Ganderton and Santos 1995; Horn 1998; also see Pascarella and Terenzini 2005 for a comprehensive review of the research on positive and negative associations between student characteristics and college persistence and attainment).

Other factors that have been associated with postsecondary persistence and degree attainment include price of attendance, financial aid, and remedial coursetaking. For example, Wei and Horn (2009) showed that being a Pell Grant7 recipient was associated with a shorter time to degree than being a nonrecipient, after controlling for several related variables simultaneously (e.g., parent’s education, undergraduate risk characteristics, and type of institution). Regarding remedial coursework, findings have been mixed. For example, studies examining the experiences of a national cohort of 12th-graders as they transitioned to postsecondary institutions in 1992 found that taking remedial courses was related to lower likelihoods of earning a postsecondary degree or completing a certificate program (NCES 2003; Adelman 2004). However, other studies show that remediation programs may help increase the likelihood of persistence over the long term (2 to 6 years) and degree attainment as well (Braley and Ogden 1997; Weissman et al. 1997).


7 The Pell Grant program is the largest federal need-based grant program available to undergraduate students. In order to qualify for a Pell Grant, a student must demonstrate financial need.