Addressing College Enrollment Through Academic Preparation

January 30, 2023

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Title: College Enrollment Disparities: Understanding the Role of Academic Preparation

Authors: Sarah Reber and Ember Smith

Source: Brookings Institution Center on Children and Families

A new report from the Brookings Institution Center on Children and Families examines how college enrollment is impacted by academic preparation, race, gender, and socioeconomic status.

The authors argue that although a college degree remains a clear pathway to an economically successful and healthy life, many high school students do not enroll in college due to poor academic preparation. These college enrollment gaps are pronounced when taking socioeconomic status, race, and gender into consideration. As higher education leaders and policymakers are increasingly focused on increasing college enrollment and attainment rates, it is crucial to understand what factors might influence a student’s likelihood of enrollment.

The report offers several key findings:

College enrollment is significantly impacted by socioeconomic status. The authors highlight that 89 percent of students from higher income families attend college, compared to just 51 percent of students from low-income backgrounds. Students from higher income backgrounds were also more likely to attend a four-year college compared to those from lower income families.

College enrollment is also affected by academic preparation. Students with comparable levels of academic preparation—such as test scores and course grades—often attend college at similar rates. Importantly, this research found that Black, Hispanic, and Asian students were slightly more likely to attend college than white students with the same academic preparation. In general, students with higher GPAs and test scores are more likely to enroll in college. However, students who are from higher income backgrounds were slightly more likely to attend college than similarly prepared students from lower income backgrounds.

Policymakers should consider academic preparation when responding to college enrollment gaps. Because of the impact that college has on long-term economic and health outcomes, increasing college enrollment and attainment will continue to be an important topic to address. Yet the authors argue that policymakers have not fully considered the importance of early childhood and secondary education in college enrollment gaps. Ensuring stronger academic preparation at an earlier age will likely be a key driver of increasing college enrollment and attainment, and boosting successful outcomes for students, families, and communities.

To read the full report, click here. To watch a recent webinar discussing the research, click here.

—Alexander Cassell

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