High School Economic Composition and College Persistence

February 2013
With Sunny X. Niu; Research in Higher Education, Vol. 54, Page 30-62

Using a longitudinal sample of Texas high school seniors of 2002 who enrolled in college within the calendar year of high school graduation, we examine variation in college persistence according to the economic composition of their high schools, which serves as a proxy for unmeasured high school attributes that are conductive to postsecondary success. Students who graduated from affluent high schools have the highest persistence rates and those who attended poor high schools have the lowest rates. Multivariate analyses indicate that the advantages in persistence and on-time graduation from 4-year colleges enjoyed by graduates of affluent high schools cannot be fully explained by high school college orientation and academic rigor, family background, pre-college academic preparedness or the institutional characteristics. High school college orientation, family background and pre-college academic preparation largely explain why graduates from affluent high schools who first enroll in 2-year colleges have higher transfer rates to 4-year institutions; however, these factors and college characteristics do not explain the lower transfer rates for students from poor high schools. The conclusion discusses the implications of the empirical findings in light of several recent studies that call attention to the policy importance of high schools as a lever to improve persistence and completion rates via better institutional matches.