Neighborhoods and schools are primary and important environments in which adolescents spend much of their time in their daily lives. Prior studies have shown that growing up in disadvantaged neighborhoods (e.g., high-poverty neighborhoods) and school contexts (e.g., structured curricula, highly educated teachers, and abundant resources at school) is associated with adolescents’ educational outcomes. However, the majority of the studies examined the impact of a single context, either the neighborhood or school, and presented mixed empirical evidence. Therefore, using a nationally representative sample of U.S. adolescents, we examined the influence of neighborhood disadvantages and school quality on college enrollment.
This study used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health): surveys with adolescents and their parents, neighborhood information, and school administrative data. The analytic sample comprised 3,955 adolescents. The dependent variable was a dichotomous measure of college enrollment. To measure neighborhood disadvantages, we created one standardized index score using seven census tract–level indicators: poverty rate, mean household income, unemployment rate, percentage of female-headed households, percentage of residents without a high school diploma, percentage of residents with college degrees, and percentage of residents in managerial/professional occupations. Similarly, one index score of school quality was created using 10 school-level records that include curricula quality, teacher qualifications, academic environment, and other school-level characteristics. We ran a weighted logistic regression, controlling for adolescents’ demographic/academic characteristics and family backgrounds.
Of our analytic sample, 52% were female, 69% were White, 12% were Black, 11% were Hispanic, and 7% were other racial categories. Regarding college enrollment, 79% of the adolescents were enrolled in a college. The findings suggest neighborhood disadvantage is negatively associated with college enrollment. The odds of college enrollment decrease by 11% for every increase in the standard deviation of the neighborhood disadvantage index (OR = 0.89, p < 0.01). In addition, school quality is positively associated with college enrollment. The odds of college enrollment increase by 39% for every increase in the standard deviation of school quality (OR = 1.39, p < 0.001).
These findings support the importance of multiple contexts associated with adolescent college enrollment. Our findings suggest that both alleviating neighborhood disadvantage and improving school quality are significantly important for adolescent college enrollment. Policy and practice implications will be discussed.