The postsecondary resource trinity model : exploring the interaction between socioeconomic, academic, and institutional resources
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It is frequently stated that higher education is our nation’s greatest vehicle for social mobility. But despite the dramatic expansion of the postsecondary system since the 1940s, social mobility rates have remained stagnant and significant socioeconomic disparities in college attainment have persisted. Three explanations of this phenomenon appear most prominently in the literature. The first is that low-SES students are significantly less likely to be academically prepared for college. The second is that, even when college-ready, low-SES students are more likely to attend less selective or lower quality postsecondary institutions, decreasing their odds of attainment. The third is that socioeconomic background may exert an independent effect on the likelihood of postsecondary success, independent of background ability and institutional quality. Although each explanation is supported empirically, thus far limited attempts have been made to determine how these three factors interact across educational transitions. The purpose of this study is to estimate the relative impact of SES across transitions in students’ college-to-career pathways and explore how socioeconomic disparities in rates of student outcomes vary by student ability, institutional selectivity, and the combination of the two. Sequential logit modeling, a methodological staple in research on the effects of socioeconomic background on educational progression, is used to estimate the relative effect of SES on seven postsecondary transitions, from college application through graduate school attainment. The labor market outcomes of college graduates are also analyzed to determine whether family upbringing continues to influence students even after completing college. For both the postsecondary and labor market analyses, separate models are fit for different ability groups and institutional selectivity levels to investigate how these factors impact the magnitude of socioeconomic disparities in transitions. The results of this study suggest the need for a new conceptualization of this phenomenon, which is termed the Postsecondary Resource Trinity model. This model highlights the complex interaction between socioeconomic, academic, and institutional resources and suggests the need for a re-examination of the traditional perspective that the impact of SES declines steadily for all students as they progress through postsecondary. Implications of the model for policy, practice, and future research are discussed.