When College Proximity Matters
Ruth López Turley

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



University of Wisconsin, Madison

Primary Discipline

The proposed study investigates the effect of college proximity on high school students’ probabilities of applying to college. It uses two main datasets: 1) a restricted version of the National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS), which allows me to approximate where a national sample of about 17,000 high school seniors lived in 1992, and 2) the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), which provides data from all US postsecondary education institutions in 1992, including their locations. Using geographic software (Arcview) and the help of cartographers at the University of Wisconsin Applied Population Lab, I plan to map where the students lived in 1992, relative to where colleges and universities are located. This mapping will allow me to create a measure of how many colleges are located within a given commuting distance for each student (as opposed to only measuring the distance to the nearest college), and colleges will be grouped by type, such as 2- or 4-year colleges, and public or private colleges. Logistic regression analyses will then estimate the effect of local college opportunities on the probability of applying to college, controlling for a variety of other factors expected to influence the probability of applying to college.In addition, NELS asked the students’ parents about the importance of having their children “attend school while living at home.” Along with economic factors, this measure of parents’ wishes will help determine which students are geographically limited due to social pressures from home. Additional measures of home obligations, such as contributing toward household living expenses and providing childcare for younger siblings will also be explored. Early analyses suggest that parents who feel it is important for their children to live at home while attending college have a significant negative effect on their children’s chances of applying to college. Students whose parents feel it is important to live at home (about 50% nationwide) are significantly less likely to apply to college than comparable students whose parents do not feel it is important. Furthermore, the college application gap is actually wider for high achievers than for low achievers, suggesting that high achievers are particularly disadvantaged when their parents want them to stay home for college.This rich mix of geographic, sociological, educational, and economic data are a unique opportunity to investigate the contextual influences on a student’s probability of applying to college. In particular, the interaction between a student’s social context in the home and his or her geographic location will help determine the extent to which college proximity matters and if it matters more for some students than for others. I expect to find that students whose parents want them to live at home during college and who do not have many colleges within commuting distance are particularly likely to forego applying to college, even if they are academically qualified. Students whose parents want them to stay home but who live close to colleges (appropriate for their qualifications) will probably be more likely to apply to college but not as likely as students whose parents do not feel it is important for them to stay home. Empirical analyses will help address some of the ways in which geographic and social barriers to education can be reduced.
About Ruth López Turley

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