Factorial Surveys in Social Psychology: Institutional Constraints and Social Inequality in University Application Plans
This paper therefore discusses under which conditions high educational aspirations of German high school students are followed up or discarded. It thereby focusses on the influence of four institutional characteristics of German universities - namely geographical distance, university reputation, information provided by universities and selection procedures – and analyses in what way they interact with the social background of students in shaping educational intentions.
This topic is approached with a factorial survey on application intentions for university programs that is integrated in a survey of around 1000 Berlin high school students who state high educational aspirations one year before graduation. Within the vignettes (here: descriptions of study programs) the levels of seven theoretically important dimensions (here: selection procedures, reputation, distance, information, etc.) are varied randomly and - also randomly - assigned to respondents. This allows evaluating the relative importance of one dimension vis-à-vis the others and shows which factors are most important in explaining the existing gap between university aspirations and their (intended) realization.
The findings suggests that distance from home strongly constraints application plans for all students. Social background differences can mainly be observed with regard to the level of application intentions indicating that socially advantaged students are in general less constrained by the institutional characteristics varied over the vignettes. The effects of the vignette dimensions, however, do rarely differ between students from different social backgrounds.