Theses Doctoral

Understanding the Determinants of Graduate School Enrollment

Mayyasi, Omar A.

The rise in globalization coupled with the exponential growth in technology has placed greater emphasis on a skills-based economy. This in turn has increased the demand for a labor force with advanced post-baccalaureate education. In order to better devise strategies and/or enact laws to promote, support and enhance post-baccalaureate education, it is imperative to understand the forces that drive or hinder individuals’ post-baccalaureate aspirations.

Using PowerStats, an on-line analytical tool made available from the National Center for Education Statistics, I use data from the 2008/12 Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study to develop a linear probability model of graduate enrollment incorporating variables informed by the research on human, social, and cultural capital as well as habitus. The results indicate that GPA, type of undergraduate institution attended, and expectation of post-baccalaureate credentials are statistically significant and positively associated with Master’s degree enrollment three years after earning a Bachelor’s degree. Older students and those with higher incomes, meanwhile, were found to have statistically significantly lower probability of graduate enrollment.

Many of the variables previously used by researchers as proxies for social and cultural capital did not have a statistically significant effect in this model specification. This finding suggests that these measures may have been confounded by acting through other variables (interdependencies) in the model. This underscores the difficulty in assigning appropriate, direct and independent measures that capture the intended underlying effects proposed in Bourdieu’s theories. Additional research is needed in this area to better understand the influences that different groups experience in their pursuit of post-baccalaureate education.

This dissertation also examines the impact of business cycle fluctuations on graduate enrollment over a thirty-year period, encompassing three major economic downturns, using a fixed effects approach. Using IPEDS enrollment data and national unemployment rates as a proxy for the business cycle between 1988 and 2017, I find graduate enrollment to be counter cyclical. Additionally, the expansion of Grad PLUS loans eased the credit constraint on graduate borrowing and seems to have had a significant and positive effect on graduate enrollment, regardless of the business cycle. While the expansion of Grad PLUS loans had a positive effect overall, there are racial differences that could suggest other barriers or constraints to graduate enrollment for minority groups during economic downturns.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Economics and Education
Thesis Advisors
Scott-Clayton, Judith E.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 5, 2020