Wolniak, Gregory C., & Engberg, Mark E.
Academic Achievement in the First Year of College: Evidence of the Pervasive Effects of the High School Context
University of Chicago; Loyola University Chicago
1) What are the unique effects of students’ demographic and socioeconomic characteristics, precollege academic performance, capital acquisition, and dimensions of the high school context on first year academic performance in college?
2) Do the effects of the high school context differ by students' demographic or socioeconomic background characteristics?
Journal Name or Institutional Affiliation:
Research in Higher Education
Vol. 51, No. 5, Pp. 451-467
- Black and Hispanic students were associated with the highest average exposure to school violence.
- Attending a high school that had increased exposure to school violence had a significant negative effect on first-year grades.
- Blacks attended the lowest quality schools in terms of teaching quality. Hispanics attended the lowest quality schools in terms of school infrastructure.
- Whites and Asians attended the highest quality schools.
- Students from higher socioeconomic statuses were more likely to attend better schools with higher quality of teaching and lower prevalence of school violence.
- Black and Hispanic students were associated with significantly lower first-year grades compared to White students.
- Students in the lowest income band were associated with significantly lower grades compared to students in the highest income band.
- Quality of high school infrastructure and the quality of the teaching environment had significant effects for students in the highest income bracket, but no effect on the lower income brackets.
- The quality of the high school infrastructure and exposure to violence at school—two operationalized dimensions of the high school context—affect first year college grades above and beyond pre-college
academic achievement and a variety of other background characteristics.
- Results also provide evidence of the conditional nature of these effects, where the high school context reinforces advantages of students with relatively greater economic resources prior to college.
Journal Article Empirical Research
Academic Achievement, College, Context, Demographic Trends, First Year of College, SES
Secondary Survey Data
Method of Analysis:
Descriptive Statistics, Linear Regression Models
Freshmen in College
Unit of Analysis:
- National Longitudinal Survey of Freshmen. Sample consisted of 3,750 students who completed their Freshman year in college. White and Asian students each represented 25% of the sample, respectively; females constituted 58% of the sample; and almost half of the respondents (49%) reported household income levels above $75,000. The average high school GPA of the sample was approximately 3.70 (4-point scale) and the average SAT or converted ACT score was 1,318.
- The sample population included students attending the most selective colleges and universities. Therefore, the results from this study may be limited in their generalizability to the original sample population and may not be reflective of students who attend less selective colleges and universities.
- The dependent variable was students' grade point average at the end of the first-year of college.
- In order to control for student demographic and socioeconomic characteristics, the authors created dummy variables for gender, race, family income, and mother’s educational attainment. Their income measure was based on three groups: income less than or equal to $50,000; income greater than $50,000 and less than or equal to $75,000; and income greater than $75,000. Similarly, the authors created three educational attainment bands representing attainment at the high school level or below, college level, and graduate level. Together, family income and mother’s educational attainment controlled for differences in the socioeconomic status of participants prior to college.
- The authors incorporated four different scaled indices to understand how capital formation and peer influence during high school affect college performance. The first index measured parental involvement in human capital formation, parental involvement in the formation of cultural capital, parental involvement in the formation of social capital and peer support for academic efforts.
- The authors included three scaled indices to capture the resources and environments that contribute to a positive learning experience for students. Representing structural and normative characteristics, these high school context scales include: quality of the high school infrastructure; quality of teaching; and exposure to school violence.
Links high school composition with college performance.