Strong educational inequalities characterize the transition to higher education and post-school pathways of young adults in Germany (e.g., Hillmert & Jacob, 2010; Schindler & Lörz, 2012). In recent years, the option to foster the educational success of low-SES students by means of interventions has become a focus of public debate and scientific research. While some work on the effects of information workshops on low-SES students’ university enrolment exists (e.g., Barone et al. 2017; Ehlert et al. 2017), research on the impact of extensive guidance counselling programs is still scarce in Europe. However, a recently published meta-analysis reviewing (quasi-)experimental studies, predominantly from North America, suggests that interventions offering personalized counselling increase university enrolment of low-SES students (Herbaut & Geven, 2020). Against this background, we are experimentally investigating the extent to which an individualised, one-to-one guidance counselling program fosters the educational success in Germany, with low-SES students being of main interest (Pietrzyk et al., 2019).
The randomized control trial (RCT) is being carried out in 31 high schools in a socio-economically disadvantaged region in Germany. Students attending the upper secondary level in 2018 were randomly assigned to the guidance counselling program. The intervention started one year before the final school exam and continues through the transition to post-secondary education. Over the course of this process, the students are surveyed in a five-year panel design consisting of six waves. Thus, the RCT provides information on the effect of the intervention during different phases of the transition to post-secondary education like developing study intentions, applying to, and enrolling in university.
The current paper investigates the program’s impact on post-secondary educational choices and further secondary outcomes (e.g., satisfaction) one and a half years after obtaining the Abitur. We apply intention to treat analyses and pay specific attention to effect heterogeneity based on educational origin. Our results indicate that the program rises the probability of going to university for persons whose parents did not attend higher education by 8 percentage points (n = 563 for treatment and control group). Additionally, the intervention mitigates the probability of university enrolment for persons whose parents are university educated by 5 percentage points, by fostering their uptake of vocational training (n = 493 for treatment and control group). As further analyses of effect heterogeneity based on academic achievement reveal, the intervention’s inequality-reducing effect of 13 percentage points is mainly driven by the program supporting high-achieving low-SES students on their way to higher education and envisioning alternative paths of a successful professional career for low-achieving high-SES students. Even though we do not find effects on secondary outcomes, this may be interpreted as being a positive result, since students whose educational pathways were altered by the program are apparently not less satisfied with their educational decision than other students.
Overall, at this point of our investigation the program appears to be highly promising in mitigating disparities in university enrolment. However, we will examine the further educational success by making use of two upcoming waves of the ZuBAb-study and will, thereby, gain more insight into the question whether the change of educational pathways initiated by the program proves to be beneficial in the long run.