March 07, 2006

Meritocracy & Gatekeepers

Espenshade, T.; Hale, L. & Ch. Chung. (2005) The Frog Pond Revisited: High School Academic Context, Class Rank, and Elite College Admission.Sociology of Education, V. 78, n. 4, October 2005, pp. 269-293.


In this article, the authors test a "frog-pond" model of elite college admission proposed by Attewell, operationalizing high school academic context as the secondary school-average SAT score and number of Advanced Placement tests per high school senior. Data on more than 45,000 applications to three elite universities show that a high school's academic environment has a negative effect on college admission, controlling for individual students' scholastic ability. A given applicant's chances of being accepted are reduced if he or she comes from a high school with relatively more highly talented students, that is, if the applicant is a small frog in a big pond. Direct evidence on high school class rank produces similar findings. A school's reputation or prestige has a counterbalancing positive effect on college admission. Institutional gatekeepers are susceptible to context effects, but the influence of school variables is small relative to the characteristics of individual students. The authors tie the findings to prior work on meritocracy in college admission and to the role played by elite education in promoting opportunity or reproducing inequality, and they speculate on the applicability of frog-pond models in areas beyond elite college admission.

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College Pathways - Social Class Differences

Goldrick-Rab, Sara (2006). Following Their Every Move: An Investigation of Social-Class Differences in College Pathways. Sociology of Education, V. 79, n. 1, January 2006, pp. 61-79


As more Americans enter college than ever before, their pathways through the broadly differentiated higher education system are changing. Movement in, out, and among institutions now characterizes students' attendance patterns—half of all undergraduates who begin at a four-year institution go on to attend at least one other college, and over one-third take some time off from college after their initial enrollment. This study investigated whether there is social-class variation in these patterns, with advantaged and disadvantaged students responding to new postsecondary choices by engaging in different pathways. National longitudinal data from postsecondary transcripts were used to follow students across schools and to examine the importance of family background and high school preparation in predicting forms of college attendance. The results demonstrate that students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are more likely than are economically advantaged students (net of prior academic preparation) to follow pathways that are characterized by interrupted movement. Such pathways appear to be less effective routes to the timely completion of degrees. Thus, differences in how students attend college represent an additional layer of stratification in higher education.

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February 16, 2006

K-12 Concentrated Disadvantage

Yun, J. and J. F. Moreno (2006). College Access, K-12 Concentrated Disadvantage, and the Next 25 Years of Education Research. Educational Researcher, v.35, n. 1. AERA.

Applying cluster analysis to California data, this study explore concentrated disadvantage in the K-12 system and its effects on ethnic disparities in college access. Point out implications in the context of California stratified system of postsecondary education, and the outlook for the elimination of race considerations for college admissions within the next 25 years.

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