Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Despite the ostensible proposition of American higher education to create a level playing field and advance an individual's life opportunities, the history of access to higher education in the United States has demonstrated a lack of equality in enrollment patterns. This enrollment inequality appears most pronounced when considering family income and socioeconomic status. These differences are particularly notable when considering enrollment patterns of students who are academically qualified to succeed at a highly selective college or university, but who come from low income families. Such variations in enrollment at highly selective colleges and universities aligned with family income and not academic merit raise important social justice and institutional policy questions.

The purpose of this study is to examine how various forms of capital influence the decision making of academically qualified, low income students throughout the college choice process, and to determine if our nation's highly selective colleges and universities disregard differences in capital or fuel further differences according to wealth. Specifically, I will consider human, economic, social, and cultural factors that predict the schools to which students apply, are accepted, and ultimately matriculate. I intend to analyze if factors other than a student's own merit or academic ability are influencing decisions throughout the college choice process.

This study will use descriptive and logistic regression analyses to answer its research questions that attempt to examine the influence of various forms of capital in the college choice process. The present study is based upon the hypothesis that academically qualified, low income students who apply, are admitted, and eventually enroll at highly selective colleges and universities have different levels of human, cultural, social, and economic capital than those academically qualified, low income students who do not follow similar college choice behavior, and that enhanced amounts of these forms of capital increase the likelihood that these students will apply, be admitted and enroll at highly selective postsecondary schools.

My thesis is that the influence of a student's habitus will be manifested in the college choice decisions of a sample of academically qualified, low income students in such a way that the academic ability and future potential of this population is moderated by factors often beyond their control and not related to merit. Accordingly, I postulate that highly selective colleges and universities might be missing an opportunity to advance the prospects of these students while advantaging students already privileged with robust capital portfolios.

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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.