Research in Higher Education

, Volume 42, Issue 2, pp 119–149

On the Path to College: Three Critical Tasks Facing America's Disadvantaged

  • Alberto F. Cabrera
  • Steven M. La Nasa

DOI: 10.1023/A:1026520002362

Cite this article as:
Cabrera, A.F. & La Nasa, S.M. Research in Higher Education (2001) 42: 119. doi:10.1023/A:1026520002362


A middle high school student's likelihood of continuing on to college or university rests on the completion of at least three critical tasks: (a) acquiring at least minimal college qualification, (b) actually graduating from high school, and (c) applying to a 4-year college or university. Eighty-one percent of those 1988 eighth graders who completed these three tasks enrolled in college by 1994. The path to college among socioeconomically disadvantaged middle high school students can best be characterized as hazardous. By 1994, just 1 out of 10 of the original class of 1988 poor eighth graders was attending a 4-year institution. Comparative analyses of lowest and highest SES students reveal substantial differences between these two groups, favoring upper-SES individuals at each of the three tasks on the path to college. These substantial SES-gaps are reduced, if not eliminated, once a number of influential school-based and family background variables are taken into account.

college choice access postsecondary opportunity socioeconomic status 

Copyright information

© Human Sciences Press, Inc. 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alberto F. Cabrera
    • 1
  • Steven M. La Nasa
    • 2
  1. 1.Center for the Study of Higher EducationThe Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity Park
  2. 2.Center for the Study of Higher EducationThe Pennsylvania State UniversityUSA