Study: Gap years, institution type affects college success

Zach Lyons

Both the time taken before entering college and the type of institution attended have a profound effect on the academic success of students from low-income homes, according to a study recently published by researchers at Drexel University.

The study was released by Neeta Fogg and Paul Harrington of Drexel’s Center for Labor Markets and Policy in Dec. 2015. Looking at the educational careers of former Philadelphia public school students, Fogg and Harrington found that those who started college within a semester of graduating from high school had a far higher chance of leaving college with a diploma.

The ability and reasoning for taking a longer gap between high school and college, often called a “gap year,” can be attributed to social class — which can in turn affect a student’s attitude towards college, David Yeager, a UT assistant professor of psychology, said.

“Some do it because they didn’t plan well or for financial reasons, while others do it socially, as a ‘victory lap’,” Yeager said, “For the former, that can lead to lower persistence [in college], whereas for the latter, it’s luxury.“

In addition, the study found that even without a gap year, students who chose to attend community colleges had a graduation rate more than three times lower than those who went to four-year institutions.

Advertising junior Hannah Dobbs said she doesn’t regret her decision to stick with a four-year college.

“It would’ve been easier to go to a two-year program, just because I would already be out in the working world making money now,” Dobbs said, “But I’m happy I went with four years because I feel like I’ll make more money afterwards, and be more eligible for grad school.”

Gracie Hopkins, a bilingual elementary education sophomore, works with lower-income schools in the Austin Independent School District. Hopkins said having college as a goal on the horizon makes a big difference in motivating students.

“[Younger students] want to see their ambitions take hold, they want to know they’re college bound,” Hopkins said, “Telling a student ‘you’re gonna go to college,’ and ‘you’re gonna be successful’ is really important.”

In helping children see that vision of college as a possibility, Hopkins said the key is to stay positive.

“My goal is to focus on what [students]  can do, not what they can’t,” Hopkins said, “If you keep doing that, they’re gonna see that they can be successful.”