Understanding students' transition out of high school is key to understanding U.S. class structure, mobility, and the intergenerational transmission of privilege or inequality. This dissertation empirically tests whether students decisions are made at one critical moment or rather occur slowly, over time, unfolding through daily interactions as students negotiate institutional and social structures. The research observes how student decisions are shaped by their school context; access to information and counseling at the school; parents desires, influence, and economic stability; teachers and role models; peer relationships; and their own goals and desires for the future. Using ethnographic methods the research analyzes how these separate but interconnected social realms shape the pathways students take and impact educational outcomes. In the first stage of research, the co-PI interviewed a random sample of guidance counselors across New Jersey. The co-PI is currently conducting ethnographic research at a racially and socioeconomically diverse high school in New Jersey. This school is academically strong yet has no dominant post-secondary destination, enabling investigation of variation in educational outcomes, especially the different pathways that lead to a 2-year or 4-year college. Data were first collected in focus groups and observations during classes, after school activities, and sports events. Most importantly, twenty 11th graders were randomly selected from among the middle 80 percent of the class by GPA to participate in longitudinal ethnographic research. These students are interviewed and shadowed through school and out-of-school activities until their graduation. The co-PI will also interview their parents, teachers, and counselors. This project contributes to sociological debates about structure and agency by showing the complexity of individual decision-making within social and institutional structures. Broader impacts The impact of college access on students lives is immediate and direct, for completing a bachelor's degree is increasingly becoming the only way to gain access to the middle class. Findings from this project can be used to develop clear policy recommendations for educators. Findings will be disseminated to the study school in an internal report, in research reports and policy papers prepared for publication in academic and popular presses, and through the researcher's teaching.
|Effective start/end date||9/1/09 → 8/31/10|
- National Science Foundation (NSF)