Higher Education Ph.D. Dissertations


The Relationship Between Adolescents' Self-Reported Mental Health Characteristics and College Enrollment Behaviors

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Higher Education Administration

First Advisor

Margaret Booth (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Patrick Pauken (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Maureen Wilson (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Richard Schnipke (Other)

Fifth Advisor

Audrey Roberts (Committee Member)


More college students are reporting adverse mental health concerns that negatively influence their student success than in previous years (Center for Collegiate Mental Health, 2020; Xiao et al., 2017). Postsecondary literature lacks evidence to support the influence of adolescents’ adverse mental health characteristics on future college enrollment behaviors. Using Terenzini and Reason’s college impact model (2005) and Arnett’s emerging adulthood theory (2015), the purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship between adolescents’ self-reported mental health characteristics and future college enrollment behaviors. This study was part of an ongoing, longitudinal study, the Adolescent Academic Context Study (AACS) that investigated student characteristics and their relationship with academic achievement and school climate. This study focused on 555 11th grade students, their scores on three mental health measures (self-esteem, hope, and depression), and their college enrollment data obtained via the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC). Quantitative analysis found: (a) White students were more likely to enroll in college than ethnically minoritized students; (b) students who enrolled in college immediately following high school were more likely to graduate with a college certificate or degree; (c) students who stopped out of college were less likely to graduate from college than those students who had continuous college enrollment; (d) the 11th grade students who eventually enrolled in college had higher levels of self-esteem and hope than those 11th grade students who did not enroll in college, and; (e) the 11th grade students who eventually graduated with a college certificate or degree reported higher levels of self-esteem and hope compared to those participants who did not graduate with a college certificate or degree. Several implications for policy, practice and future research developed from this study. More licensed mental health professionals must be available in K-16 settings to aid with life transitions and self-esteem, anxiety, and depressive feelings. Future researchers can investigate other precollege characteristics that may impact college enrollment (stereotype threat and perception of achievement). Finally, researchers should consider focusing on the non-college enrolled person’s mental health characteristics and their decision to not enroll in college.