The Black Box before Transitions: Social Inequality in Application for and Admission to Higher Education in Germany.

Sunday, 10 July 2016: 13:06
Location: Hörsaal 47 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Claudia FINGER, WZB Berlin Social Science Center, Germany
Whereas social inequality in the transition to higher education (HE) is well documented, important processes that predate university enrolment are largely neglected in the literature – namely application decisions on part of the student and admission decisions on part of the universities.

Firstly, it is important to ask under which conditions high school graduates apply for HE programs. Institutional and structural characteristics such as university reputation, application/admission requirements or the location of universities are likely to interact with students’ social background in shaping application decision. Given an application it is, secondly, vital to analyze the role of HE institutions in selecting students. Universities thereby function as gatekeepers in that they define admission criteria and interact with applicants.

I focus on Germany where access to an increasing number of study programs became restricted in the course of educational expansion. Additionally, admission requirements became more heterogeneous. In this context social inequality in the transition to HE can be expected to increase as social background relates to social and cultural resources and thus to differing information on the functioning of HE (access), application skills and support. 

I use new data on Berlin high school graduates to approach socially selective HE applications and admissions. Data have been collected shortly after the deadline for university applications and during the following semester – when admission decisions have already been taken. We asked students detailed questions about their applications (and non-applications) as well as admissions or rejections that they received from universities. Additionally, we collected data on access restrictions, admission criteria and selection procedures for each study program that respondents mentioned and added them to the individual data. This unique data set allows an in depth analysis of social inequality at both thresholds: the decision to apply and the probability to become admitted.