Socioeconomic Background Influences College Enrollment

Many different factors can influence a high school graduate’s decision on whether or not they should enroll in college regardless of where they are from: Nevada, Nebraska, West Virginia, South Dakota, Rhode Island, Tennessee, etc. Some of these factors can be the result of their socioeconomic status, which is the status level a family or individual may fall into based on financial, social, and educational attainments. In a 2007 study “Education Pays: The Benefits of Higher Education for Individuals and Society” College Board examined some of these factors. The study found that for high school students enrollment in college within a year of graduating is influenced by socioeconomic factors such as family income level and parent education level.

Whether or not a high school graduate chooses to enroll in college directly after high school is influenced by the income-level of their family. Those from affluent families are more likely than those with families with lower-incomes to enroll in college. Separated into four quintiles based on household income, the study reported that around 80 percent of high school graduates from the highest income quintile, $80,662 annually, enrolled in college 12 months after graduating, compared to 50 percent of those from the lowest quintile, $16,799 annually. The college enrollment rates of high school graduates from the middle income group, $50,380 annually, were almost 20 percent lower than the highest income group. The good news is that even though enrollment rates are lowest among the lower income group, they have experienced the most growth in college enrollment in the past 10 years.


But income level is not the only thing that influences a high school graduate’s decision to enroll in college, the education levels of their parents is also significant. The study found that within families with similar income levels, high school students whose parents went to college were significantly more likely to go to college than those whose parents did not. Even among high school students with similar academic achievements, both family income and education level had an impact on college enrollment. Students from families with lower education and income levels were still much less likely to enroll in college than those from well-off ones, even though they had the same academic potential. For instance, among the students with high test scores who graduated high school in 1992, those from high socioeconomic backgrounds were about 32 percent more likely to enroll in college than those from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Although among the graduates that did choose to enroll in college, students from low-income families were highly represented in two-year public colleges while those from high-income families are more likely to attend private four-year colleges and universities.