Over the past two decades, many analysts have explored the various influences on high-school graduates’ college enrollment behaviors.
Theoretical and methodological approaches to studying the topic have become almost standardized. Most new studies of the topic are either replications of earlier analyses or minor variations on earlier themes. Levine and Nidiffer’s Beating the Odds brings us something a little different, however. Instead of another multivariate, quantitative exploration of educational attainment patterns in nationally representative survey data for thousands of students, Levine and Nidiffer present us with an interpretive analysis based on interviews with a very small group of respondents. Instead of beginning with a framework based in the familiar status attainment, cultural capital, or human capital theories, these authors construct their interpretations inductively, as they learn from the voices of their respondents. Instead of investigating what separates college attenders from those who choose other options, Levine and Nidiffer focus only on those who actually enter postsecondary institutions. Finally, instead of examining an economically diverse pool of respondents, these authors consider only those they term "the poor": students from backgrounds so impoverished that opportunities for college attendance are severely limited. These are bold choices. Individually and as a whole, they carry significant analytic risks. For those accustomed to other approaches to the topic, however, the book provides some special pleasures.