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What Higher Education Has to Say About the Transition to College

by Sara Goldrick-Rab - 2007

With Deborah Faye Carter and Rachelle Winkle Wagner


Higher education researchers have much to say about the transition to college. This field focuses primarily on inequities in college participation and completion, the relative importance of high school preparation, and the utility of financial aid in promoting enrollment. This literature’s strongest conceptual emphasis is on theoretical models of student retention. Less is known about other facets of the transition to college, including different postsecondary pathways and college outcomes.


This paper describes the major findings of research on the transition to college contributed by higher education, and how further research might be improved. The specific areas covered are college preparation, college access, persistence, and college outcomes. The reviewed literature covered extant research on the transition to college as conducted by higher education researchers.

Research Design:

This essay is an analysis of extant research on the college transition in the field of higher education


This review highlights the field’s major shortcoming as undertaking insufficiently rigorous, empirical testing of theories on the transition to college. Existing research on postsecondary pathways is often compromised by data or methodological limitations, failure to be critical in attributing causality, and not differentiating effects occurring at different measurement levels (i.e., individual vs. institution).

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 109 Number 10, 2007, p. 2444-2481
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12565, Date Accessed: 9/18/2021 9:27:00 AM

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About the Author
  • Sara Goldrick-Rab
    University of Wisconsin-Madison
    E-mail Author
    SARA GOLDRICK-RAB is an assistant professor of Educational Policy Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a faculty affiliate of the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education. She specializes in the study of social stratification in higher education, and is particularly interested in inequalities related to student mobility. Current research projects include a study of path-dependence in postsecondary transitions, and an analysis of the college pathways of Chicago Public School students.
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