How High Schools Explain Students' Initial Colleges and Majors (Update)

Rajeev Darolia

We use statewide administrative data from Missouri to examine the role of high schools in explaining students’ initial college and major placements at 4-year public universities. To facilitate our investigation of postsecondary sorting, we develop a “preparation and persistence index” (PPI) for each university-by-major cell in the Missouri system to measure the quality of that cell. The PPI depends on the pre-college academic qualifications of degree completers. Our analysis of high schools shows that the high school attended predicts the quality of the initial university, as measured by PPI, conditional on a student’s own academic preparation. Consistent with previous research, we further show that students from lower-SES high schools systematically enroll at lower-quality universities relative to their similarly-qualified peers from higher-SES high schools. However, high schools offer little explanatory power over major placements within universities. Correspondingly, there are not meaningful differences in the quality of these placements by high-school SES.


Feb 2017