Martin Neugebauer, Steffen Schindler
Early transitions and tertiary enrolment: The cumulative impact of primary and secondary effects on entering university in Germany

Acta Sociologica, 2012: 55, issue 1, pp. 19-36

Our aim is to assess how the number of working class students entering German universities can effectively be increased. Therefore, we estimate the proportion of students from the working class that would successfully enter university if certain policy interventions were in place to eliminate primary effects (performance differentials between social classes) and/or secondary effects (choice differentials net of performance) at different transition points. We extend previous research by analysing the sequence of transitions between elementary school enrolment and university enrolment and by accounting for the impact that manipulations at earlier transitions have on the performance distribution and size of the student ‘risk-set’ at subsequent transitions. To this end, we develop a novel simulation procedure which also seeks to find viable solutions to the shortcomings in the German data landscape. Our findings show that interventions are most effective if they take place early in the educational career. Neutralizing secondary effects at the transition to upper secondary school proves to be the single most effective means to increase participation rates in tertiary education among working class students. However, this comes at the expense of lower average performance levels.