Not Making the Transition to College

School, Work, and Opportunities in the Lives of Contemporary American Youth

by Robert Bozick, Stefanie DeLuca

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This paper analyzes the motives for not attending college among a nationally representative sample of high school sophomores in 2002 who had not enrolled in college by the spring of 2006 (N = 2,690). It uses a latent class modeling approach to identify five classes of non-enrollees: those who are oriented toward work that does not require a college degree (18.3 percent), those who cannot afford college and/or need to support their families (27.6 percent), those who face multiple disadvantages (7.1 percent), those who do not enroll for other reasons (43.5 percent), and those who join the armed forces (3.5 percent). Adopting a social agency perspective that highlights individual decision making, it finds support for the hypothesis that the motives of these youth are guided by their orientations toward school, their orientations toward work, the educational context of their neighborhood, and their local labor market opportunities. It finds that in contrast to their peers who went on to two-year colleges and those who did not go to college for economic reasons, workdriven non-enrollees were more likely as high school students to hold paid jobs and expect to hold a blue collar job at age 30. These youth do not appear to be constrained by academic or economic barriers. Economically-constrained non-enrollees, on the other hand, have relatively low investments in paid work while in high school and expect to hold white collar jobs at age 30, but face both academic and economic constraints.

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