Thursday, January 1, 2009

A Class Gap in the "Gap Year"

Thanks to Joanne Jacobs's blog for alerting me to yet another story on the trend of high school graduates taking a so-called "gap year" before entering college. I was especially happy to see that she pointed to blogger Donald Douglas's post that points out the gap year is the privilege of students who can afford to take one.

So true, so true. In fact, as I wrote in a paper given at AERA in 2006, there is a "class gap" in the gap year. Using national longitudinal data (NELS), my graduate student Seong Won Han and I found that students from poor socioeconomic backgrounds are nearly six times as likely as students from more advantaged families to delay college between high school graduation and college entry. We examined two explanations for those differential rates of delay: academic coursetaking and family formation. Poor students are less likely than wealthy students to take a core lab science in high school, and they are more likely to become parents before college entry. We find that these differences, along with family background, educational expectations, and high school preparation, explain nearly one-fifth of the unconditional socioeconomic gap in delay.

There are consequences to delaying college. In a 2005 paper, Robert Bozick and Stefanie DeLuca found that each additional month of delay between high school and college entry decreases the odds of bachelor’s degree completion by 6.5 percent. That effect does not operate entirely via an increase in the time-to-degree or a delay in completion; rather, it acts to independently reduce the likelihood of eventual completion.

In sum, if middle and upper-class kids are increasingly exercising their ability to take some time off before college to gain interesting life experiences they can later bring to the classroom, while low-income kids only delay when required to earn money for school or raise a child, the socioeconomic gap in college completion rates is likely to only get worse....

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