Gaps in the College Application Gauntlet

with Daniel Klasik & Rachel Baker

Higher education research has often focused on rates of step completion in the postsecondary pathway and their relationship to college enrollment. Instead of concentrating on levels of step completion, this study explicitly examines gaps, specifically race- and income-based differences in college enrollment and the intermediate steps to enrollment. Drawing upon national- and state-representative samples from the High School Longitudinal Study of 2009, the study uses the V-statistic, a novel approach that leverages the full distribution of enrollment and step completion, to compute continuous measures of race- and income-based inequalities comparable across steps, groups, and states. First, the authors demonstrate that gaps based on rates rather than the full distribution of step completion may lead to slightly different conclusions. Second, among the steps they analyze, it appears that gaps in academic qualifications are largest, even larger than gaps in college enrollment itself. Finally, through regression analysis, the authors show that gaps in academic qualifications and gaps in taking a college entrance exam are the strongest predictors of gaps in enrollment selectivity. The authors conclude that policymakers and practitioners interested in closing college enrollment gaps ought to identify interventions that can close gaps, in addition to levels, early in the postsecondary pathway.