The Four-Year College Pipeline and Factors Related to Bachelor's Degree Completion for High School Graduates
Higher Education Administration
Higher Education and Teaching
This study examines students' progress from high school graduation through college enrollment and completion. Much of the existing research frames high school dropout, college access, and college completion as separate phenomena; few studies examine individuals' transitions across these points. Thinking about these events as related pieces of a pathway to educational attainment is called an education pipeline perspective. This perspective is particularly useful today, given recent reforms aimed at improving high school academic achievement, preparing students for college and careers, and increasing educational attainment. Using two nationally representative, longitudinal data sets (ELS:2002 and NELS:88) I examined changes in the education pipeline for high school seniors in the 2004 and 1992 cohorts. I also explored the relationship between bachelor's degree completion and high school academic achievement using logistic regression for students from the 2004 senior cohort who enrolled on-time in four-year institutions. The logistic regression results were used to conduct a path analysis modeling to what extent the experience of transferring from a four-year college mediates the relationship between bachelor's degree completion and academic achievement. Findings from this study indicate that a greater percentage of the 2004 cohort enrolled in college compared to the previous cohort, but the increase was largely driven by students who delayed enrollment by six months or more. The six-year bachelor's degree completion rate of the 2004 cohort was also lower than that of the 1992 cohort. Additionally, students who transferred from four-year institutions tended to switch to public two-year institutions. Results from the regression analyses suggest that high school GPA was a stronger predictor of bachelor's completion than SAT score; however, SAT score better predicted transferring. Transferring was a significant, but weak mediator of the relationship between academic achievement and bachelor's degree completion. This study's findings contribute to the understanding of student transitions along the education pipeline and to the literature on academic achievement, transfer, and bachelor's degree completion.