The Bottom Line

The Bottom Line

/ November 27, 2006 | Volume 4 | Number 11
How do peer relationships in high school affect college enrollment?
How do peer relationships in high school affect college enrollment?
Dan Laitsch

The Question

How important are peers in a student's decision to pursue higher education?

The Context

Research has long shown that peers can have a significant influence on individual student behaviors. Peer influence can result in outcomes both positive (increased school performance) and negative (increased delinquency). In fact, the influence of peers has been identified as particularly important for low-achieving students, who can improve when they have a network of higher-achieving friends. Peers may have an immediate influence on individual behavior, but they can also affect long-term behavior that has implications for students deciding whether to attend college or other postsecondary education programs. Long-standing gaps in the number of poor and minority youth who attend college as compared with their white and more affluent peers highlight an additional concern related to peer support for education.

The Details

Andrew Sokatch conducted the study highlighted in this issue of ResearchBrief (see below for full citation). Sokatch was interested in examining how the peers of poor, urban, minority students influence student decisions to enroll in postsecondary programs including college, and how that influence differs from a sample of all high school graduates.
The author created two data samples from the National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS-88). One sample was of black and Hispanic youth with low socioeconomic status, who attended urban public schools, while the other sample was designed to represent the broader population of high school graduates. In the data analysis, Sokatch controlled for socioeconomic status, family influence, academic achievement, access to financial aid information, and school composition. He used multivariate logistical regression to analyze the effect of four peer-level variables on individual college aspiration and enrollment: (1) friends' postsecondary plans, (2) peer academic values, (3) social engagement with peers, and (4) what graduates think their peers want them to do after graduation.
Although the author found that friends' wishes and plans (variables one and four) were significant predictors of individual enrollment in higher education for all students, only friends' plans to attend college remained a significant predictor after parental influences were included in the model. However, the wishes of friends (variable four) was still a significant predictor of enrollment for black and Hispanic students with a low socioeconomic status.
Sokatch next estimated the difference in the probability that black and Hispanic respondents with a low socioeconomic status would choose to attend a postsecondary institution based on peer influence, and found that friends' wishes and plans increased likely enrollment by 60 percent (from 24.6 percent of the sample to 39.5 percent). This effect was even greater when looking at four-year college enrollment, with peer influence increasing the probability of attendance more than 10 times (from 2.6 percent to 29.1 percent).

The Bottom Line

High school graduates are significantly more likely to go on to postsecondary education and college if their peers support them and have similar plans for higher education. These effects are particularly strong for black and Hispanic youth with a low socioeconomic status.

Who's Affected?

This study focused on high school graduates looking at enrollment in postsecondary institutions.


As highlighted by the author, this research establishes a correlation between peer influence and postsecondary engagement. However, the research cannot establish a causal relationship. Rather than peers pushing individuals to attend college, it could be that individuals interested in postsecondary education seek out peers with similar values. This research does not examine how such positive peer support develops or why the interaction between peer support and college enrollment exists.

The Study

Sokatch, A. (2006). Peer influences on the college-going decisions of low socioeconomic status of urban youth. Education and Urban Society 39(1). 128-146.

Other Resources

Peer Effects and Social Networks in Education and Crime
The Research Institute of Industrial Economics
Educational Peer Effects Quantile Regression Evidence from Denmark with PISA2000 data
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
All comments regarding ReseachBrief should be sent to . To speak directly with an ASCD staff member, please contact us.
Dan Laitsch serves as ASCD's consultant editor for ResearchBrief. Laitsch is an assistant professor in the faculty of education at SimonFraserUniversity in British Columbia, Canada, and is coeditor of the International Journal for Education Policy and Leadership.
Copyright © 2006 by Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development