Date of Completion


Embargo Period



higher education, sociology of education, college, admissions, inequality, geography

Major Advisor

Mary J. Fischer

Associate Advisor

Michael Wallace

Associate Advisor

Simon Cheng

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


Though rural schools have closed a long-standing high school graduation gap compared with urban schools, they struggle to achieve parity in college graduation rates. Sociology of education literature on college attendance explains this stratification using race/ethnic or social class differences, but has not fully explored spatial stratification comparing urban, suburban and rural students. Stratification research is typically rooted in status attainment and social reproduction theories, yet these frameworks rarely situate student outcomes in spatial context. Using data from the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002, I examine the spatial stratification of factors related to college attendance and use these factors to predict the likelihood of actual postsecondary school enrollment. I contribute to the literature by examining how the traditional factors that affect college enrollment differ in suburban, urban, and rural contexts by assessing the spatial stratification of enrollment by post-secondary institutional type, comparing two-year and four-year institutions. I also incorporate two new explanations of likelihood of college enrollment that may be particularly salient for rural students: proximity to nearest institution and technological capital.

I conduct multivariate analyses, and find that the way scholars understand college enrollment does not apply to all spatial contexts. While no spatial context maintains an advantage in terms of noncognitive resources, there is variation in the impact of these resources on the likelihood of college enrollment. Urban students’ parents maintaining college-going aspirations and greater technological capital boost students’ chances of enrollment. Suburban students benefit from noncognitive resources and from supportive social networks established by parents or peers. In rural contexts, various types of school involvement, supportive parents with college-going aspirations, and supportive social networks predict greater likelihood of attending college. I also show that technological capital positively predicts the likelihood of post-secondary enrollment regardless of institutional type for urban and suburban students, but distance matters only for suburban students. While prior achievement and aspirations are important for all students, the various factors associated with college enrollment that are examined in this project are better at predicting enrollment in four year versus two year institutions and more of these factors are significantly related to enrollment for students from suburban schools compared to rural or urban students. Future research should pay attention to the important ways in which geography directly and indirectly shapes student’s pathways to college enrollment.