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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University November 28, 2005 | Vol. 35 No. 12
'Gap Year' Could Become Gulch for College Delayers, Study Finds

By Amy Cowles

Taking a year off between high school and college has increasingly gained acceptance as a valuable way for young adults to travel, work or experience the real world before continuing on as full-time students. And the prospect of a "gap year" might seem even more attractive to high schoolers right now, when college application deadlines are right around the corner. But a new study from Johns Hopkins shows that delaying one's freshman year may have consequences most people don't consider.

Students who delay their college enrollment by more than one year are 64 percent less likely to complete their bachelor's degree, even eight years later, than students who head to college right after high school graduation. Delayers are also more likely than on-time enrollees to attend less-than-four-year institutions and to get married or to have kids before entering college. The findings were published in the Sept. 9 edition of the journal Social Forces.

"What was surprising was that even socioeconomically advantaged, high-performing kids, even those who started at four-year schools, will be at a disadvantage in terms of completing their degree if they delay," said Stefanie DeLuca, study co-author and assistant professor of sociology. The study, done with then graduate student Robert Bozick, who earned his doctorate in 2005, drew from the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988, a national survey of 24,599 eighth-graders that was followed up in 1990, 1992, 1994 and 2000, when the students were eight years out of high school.

The study reports that 16 percent of the class of 1992 postponed enrollment by seven months or more after completing high school. Delayers tended to be from less-advantaged backgrounds, were generally low-performing in school, had kids or had gotten married before college and had started at a two-year college.

DeLuca, who studies education trends, became interested in the topic of students delaying college when she started noticing that high school students were increasingly bombarded with information about all kinds of college options such as distance learning and evening and weekend colleges. "The messages of all of these programs seemed to be, You can go back to college at any time and there's no penalty for putting it off," she said.

DeLuca knows from past research, however, that "most irregular timing patterns don't bode well for long-term educational attainment." Everything from losing connection with one's high school advisers, to family and work commitments to simply being older than the rest of one's college class complicates delayers' re-entry into full-time schooling.


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