Financial factors and institutional characteristics that explain undergraduate enrollment by low-income students at public master's-level institutions
Low-income students continue to struggle with the rising costs of higher education. Four-year college tuition typically exceeds financial aid awarded to undergraduates at public institutions. St. John (2005) contended that grant amounts remain inadequate for low-income students. Tinto (2008) highlighted the growing income stratification within higher education, particularly at four-year institutions. This research study focused on institution-level variables in an attempt to characterize the way that particular financial and institutional elements impact low-income undergraduate enrollment at public master's-level institutions. A thorough review of literature was conducted on college choice, costs and benefits of higher education, the problem of affordability, effects of financial aid, characteristics of low-income students, and enrollment rates by race, gender, and income level. This study expanded upon previous literature, which explored the relationship between college costs, financial aid, and higher education opportunities for diverse groups. This study involved a secondary analysis of data from five sources: 1) the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), 2) the Delta Cost Project, 3) The College Board's 2009 Annual Survey of Colleges, 4) the U.S. Census Bureau categorization of four geographic regions of the United States, and 5) the unpublished dissertation, "A Geographical Classification of Master's Colleges and Universities," by Dr. Clint Kinkead. In order to explore the ways that financial factors and institutional characteristics differed across public master's-level institutions in the U.S., based upon geographic region, 2005 Carnegie Basic Classification, and campus setting, this data was analyzed first using descriptive statistics. Then, multiple linear regression analysis was conducted in order to determine which combination of factors was statistically significant in explaining low-income undergraduate enrollment at public master's-level institutions. Smaller, urban institutions were most effective at enrolling low-income undergraduate students in the 2007-2008 academic year. Institutions located in the West and South enrolled the highest number and greatest percentage, respectively, of low-income undergraduate students. The findings, conclusions, and recommendations of this study may provide useful guidance to higher education policymakers and practitioners concerning the development of policies and practices that better meet the needs of low-income undergraduate students seeking to enroll in public master's-level institutions.