Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Public Policy & Administration

First Advisor

Michael Pratt


This study is interested in defining new variables that contribute to the explanation of whether or not an individual applies to postsecondary institutions. Prior research has explained differences based on demographic variables, such as first generation status, income and race, and differences in information and social support that an individual possesses. While these variables have a significant effect on the decision, they do not completely explain why individuals decide to pursue postsecondary education. This research suggests that how an individual moves through the decision process, as well as how information is interpreted and used will have an effect on the ultimate decision outcome. The Sense-Making model (Dervin, 2003) is adapted here to define the differences in the decision process. A telephone survey was conducted with a randomly selected sample of 448 residents of the Commonwealth of Virginia asking them to describe their decision process regarding participating in postsecondary education based on the variables comprising the Sense-Making model. Stepwise logistic regression was used to determine the effect of the demographics-based and Sense-Making model variables on the likelihood that an individual applies to postsecondary education. The descriptive analysis of the survey findings indicated that respondents do not rely solely on a rational, information-based decision process. The resulting model produced by the stepwise process indicated that income and familiarity with postsecondary education had the strongest effects on the likelihood of applying, which is consistent with the existing literature. As for the Sense-Making variables, the analysis provided a set of variables whose presence makes a respondent less likely to apply. Feeling a lack of control over the decision outcome, perceiving information as not supportive to the process, using social support to make the decision and noting social support and school characteristics as a barrier all decreased the likelihood of respondents applying. The findings of the descriptive and predictive analysis defined the shortcomings of information and indicate that social support, like information, may not always facilitate the decision process. Recommendations are made to create information that is more supportive and will accurately portray the work necessary to prepare for postsecondary education and to create participatory programming to address misperceptions and acceptance of information. These findings provide the basis for additional research to define how information can support the decision process.


© The Author

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

December 2008