Assets and Access
Americans are more educated than ever, and high educational attainment has long been associated with positive outcomes for individuals and society as a whole. However, one-third of high school students do not enroll in post-secondary education immediately after graduation, thereby reducing potential benefits. A thorough understanding of college enrollment patterns is needed to develop and enhance interventions that will effectively promote immediate college enrollment. Extant literature on college access focuses largely on contextual factors that influence college enrollment, such as families, schools, and classrooms. Given that context is only one component of development, additional research on the role of the individual may be especially useful for understanding more fully the transition from high school to college. For this dissertation, theoretical approaches from higher education and developmental psychology were combined to provide a new framework for exploring immediate college enrollment. The variables of interest included indicators of college readiness (e.g., academic preparedness and sources of college information) and three internal assets: self-regulation, school engagement, and expectations for academic success. College enrollment patterns were examined using data from the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002, which surveyed students nationwide in 2002 (Grade 10), 2004 (Grade 12), 2006, and 2012. A series of multinomial regression equations revealed significant main effects and indirect effects of internal assets on college enrollment through college readiness variables, but no interaction effects between internal assets and college readiness variables. Analyses also provided support for previous findings related to racial/ethnic and socio-economic group differences, as well as school-level contextual factors. The findings from this study have valuable implications for college access programs: internal assets appear to be driving college readiness, not merely bolstering it, and should be a focus for interventional efforts. Additional research across applied settings for youth is needed to replicate and extend the findings from the current study, to evaluate applicable measurement standards, and to propose reform in practice and policy.