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(Mis)Aligned Ambitions? Parent Resources, Student Alignment, and Piecing Together the Hispanic College Puzzle


The fact that Latina/o students are losing ground to their non-Latino White peers in four-year college enrollment and bachelor's degree attainment even as Latino college enrollment and graduation rates are at an all time high constitutes a perplexing puzzle. In order to realize the potential "demographic dividend" embedded in the diverse youth population entering the U.S. workforce in the next two decades, it will be critical to fill in the missing pieces of what has been referred to as the Hispanic college puzzle. The current study contributes several new pieces to the puzzle of Latina/o postsecondary attainment. Using a national longitudinal database and structural equation modeling techniques, I investigate the possibility that the degree of alignment, or, alternatively, misalignment, between high school students' postsecondary expectations and their actions taken toward fulfilling those ambitions mediates intergenerational resource transmission. The results demonstrate that the extent to which students with high postsecondary expectations prepare during high school to realize their goals can have a marked influence on the level at which they enroll in college. This is true regardless of whether the student is White or Latino, and irrespective of nativity status among Latino youth. The findings also suggest that there are meaningful differences both between Latino and non-Latino White students, as well as within the Latino youth population across generations, with respect to the availability and convertibility of various types of parent capital--in particular, forms of parent social capital--into higher levels of student alignment and college enrollment. Overall, the results of this research suggest that alignment can serve much like a bridge on the road to college, such that when students are able to align their actions with their college expectations and then fully capitalize on that match, they are more likely to enroll in a four-year institution. However, in order for Latino students to bridge their college expectations to higher levels of enrollment, students and their families must be able to forge the sorts of social connections that can help them access and make use of timely and accurate information and guidance during the college choice and enrollment process.

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