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Does having close friends go to college increase the likelihood that someone will enroll?

Steven Alvarado, assistant professor of sociology at Cornell University, found that this is actually true of white and Asian students, but less so for their Black and Latinx counterparts.

"Black and Latino students certainly reap some benefits from having college-bound friends in high school," Alvarado said, "but the benefits are not as widespread for these students as they are for white and Asian students when it comes to college enrollment."

Alvarado turned to the U.S. Department of Education's High School Longitudinal Study of 2009, a nationally representative survey of 24,000 students who were followed and surveyed through college. The survey asked the question "How many of your close friends plan to attend a four-year college?"

He found that for all students combined, having college-bound friends increased the probability of enrolling in any college by six percentage points. But for Black and Latinx students, the benefit was much smaller. The loss was greater for male than female students, and as colleges became more selective.

Alvarado said that one way to improve college enrollment rates for Black and Latinx students is for high schools to think of ways to better incorporate families in the college-going process. "Friendships," Alvarado said, "perhaps when combined with a culturally sensitive approach to college-going, may be one essential piece of the puzzle that is necessary to ameliorate racial and ethnic disparities in college enrollment."

The full study just appeared in the American Educational Research Journal.

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