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Socioeconomic Disparities in the Use of College Admission-Enhancing Strategies among High School Seniors from the 1990s to 2000s


by Ryan Wells, Gregory C. Wolniak, Mark E. Engberg & Catherine A. Manly — 2016

Background/Context: Researchers have examined a number of admission-enhancing strategies utilized by students to strengthen their college applications. These academic and nonacademic strategies represent a range of opportunities differentially accessed by students, which can bolster their college profiles and increase their overall likelihood of college enrollment.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: The purpose of this study is to determine if the relationship between students’ SES and use of admission-enhancing strategies changed over time. We address the following specific research questions:

• To what extent were there differences in the use of admission-enhancing strategies between low- and high-SES students in the 1990s and 2000s? • To what extent did these relationships between SES and the use of admission-enhancing strategies differ by academic achievement? • To what extent did SES gaps increase, decrease, or remain stable between the 1990s and the 2000s?

Research Design: This study utilized a correlational design, via secondary data analysis. Specifically, the analytic plan for this study consisted of three main parts: 1) descriptive statistics, including analyses of mean differences and change over time, 2) logistic regression to determine how SES predicts the use of college admission-enhancing strategies separately by cohort, and 3) comparison of predicted probabilities of strategy use by SES within cohorts, as well as over time between cohorts.

Findings/Results: SES is related to greater use of these strategies among high school students, and this relationship has been maintained over time. Additionally, specifically comparing changes in the gap of strategy use between high- and low-SES students reveals that inequality has not only been maintained, but has increased over time.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Findings contribute to a growing body of literature examining educational inequalities. Results also imply that admissions processes and decisions should be conducted with awareness of the stratifying nature of these admission-enhancing strategies. The findings also lead to the suggestion that more programs are needed that foster greater involvement among low-SES students in activities that will be seen as desirable by selective institutions and aid them in going to a college of their choice.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 118 Number 9, 2016, p. 1-36
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21532, Date Accessed: 12/14/2017 10:05:24 AM

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About the Author
  • Ryan Wells
    University of Massachusetts, Amherst
    E-mail Author
    RYAN WELLS is associate professor and program coordinator of higher education, at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He primarily uses quantitative research methods to study questions of college access and equity for underrepresented groups, as well as resulting social inequality. Topics for recent research include the ways that socioeconomic status, gender, and disability status are related to student access and success. Articles on these topics have been published in The Journal of Higher Education, Teachers College Record, and Research in Higher Education.
  • Gregory Wolniak
    New York University
    E-mail Author
    GREGORY WOLNIAK is Director of the Center for Research on Higher Education Outcomes and Clinical Associate Professor of Higher Education at New York University. His scholarship and writing aim to advance our understanding of the higher education system in relation to student access, opportunity, and development. A common theme in his scholarship is the examination of points of transition, including pathways into college, as well as socioeconomic and labor market outcomes that result from the college experience. Wolniak’s recent publications have appeared in the High School Journal, Review of Higher Education, Teachers College Record, and Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice.
  • Mark Engberg
    Loyola University Chicago
    E-mail Author
    MARC ENGBERG is associate professor and program chair of higher education at Loyola University Chicago. His research agenda focuses on two-interrelated threads: 1) how individual- and institutional-level factors influence students’ pathways to postsecondary education, with a particular focus on racial/ethnic minorities and low-income students, and 2) understanding the educational benefits of diversity and how different curricular and co-curricular interventions influence a range of skills and dispositions necessary in today’s increasingly diverse and global society. Recent publications on these topics have appeared in High School Journal, Research in Higher Education, Teachers College Record, and Journal of College Student Development.
  • Catherine Manly
    University of Massachusetts, Amherst
    E-mail Author
    CATHERINE A. MANLY is a higher education doctoral student and Research Assistant in the Education Policy, Research and Administration Department at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Her research interests include the transition from high school to college, the expansion of postsecondary education, and the changes possible because of online and educational technologies. Her recent publications include “Reporting the use of multiple imputation for missing data in higher education research” in Research in Higher Education. She is also a co-author of a forthcoming chapter in Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research on students with disabilities.
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