College-for-All: Do Students Understand What College Demands?
This paper examines whether youth understand what is required to attain their college plans. An analysis of a survey of 2000 high school seniors finds that many youth believe they can attain their plans even if they do poorly in high school, and these beliefs strongly predict lower effort in high school. However, an analysis of the High School and Beyond 1982 seniors finds that while poor high school grades have little effect on whether students attend college, they cut college degree attainment in half. Over 80% of students with poor grades failed at their college plans in the next ten years. Grades have a strong independent influence on educational attainment, net of SES, ethnicity, and test scores. Indeed, grades are the single largest influence in affecting whether students attain their plans, and grades are even more important for blacks than for whites. If students could change one attribute in high school to make their plans come true, they should improve their grades. These findings suggest that "college-for-all" norms create large opportunity costs for high school students. Three policy reforms are suggested. High schools should provide clear information on the effects of high school grades on college success rates, they should form linkages with colleges, and they should prepare students for back-up career options if their college plans are unlikely to succeed.
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