Navigating disparate pathways to college: Examining the conditional effects of race on enrollment decisions

Mark E. Engberg, Gregory C. Wolniak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background/Context:This study draws from the growing body of research dedicated to understanding how students navigate disparate pathways to college. The extant research has demonstrated the various stages that undergird the college choice process, drawing largely from economic and sociological perspectives related to human capital formation, status attainment, and social and cultural resources. Despite this growing body of research, our understanding of the college choice process across racial groups remains inconsistent and unclear. Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus: The purpose of the current study is to better understand the various factors and resources that influence the decision to attend a particular college or university, with an emphasis on how the choice process manifests across different race groups. Through the development of a series of statistical models, we offer a unique glimpse into whether a common model of college choice exists, while exploring the possibility that the process and underlying factors that influence matriculation may differ depending on one's racial group membership. Research Design: Using admissions and financial aid data from eight private colleges and universities, we performed secondary data analyses on general and race-conditional models of college choice. Analysis: The current study primarily used blocked logistic regression to understand the main and conditional effects of enrollment for the general population and across four race groups. Conclusions: Our findings suggest that the college choice process unfolds differently for students depending on their racial group membership. Although our models captured a significant amount of the variance for each racial group, our study reveals important distinctions related to the college choice process based on students' academic preparation, the overall academic quality of their secondary milieu, and the strength of established feeder networks between a particular high school and college. Overall, our findings provide conceptual guidance for researchers interested in studying the college choice process and emphasize the importance of examining conditional effects to fully appreciate how the process unfolds for all students.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2255-2279
Number of pages25
JournalTeachers College Record
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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