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Environmental Factors or Individual Characteristics? What is Needed to Get High Achieving Latino Youth to Successfully Apply to Four-year Colleges?


This study investigated how well environmental factors and individual characteristics predicted college-going behavior for Latino/as who were college eligible. The study addressed the following research questions; 1) Is there a relationship between individual characteristics (e.g. agency and self-efficacy) and college-going behavior (e.g. applied to college and took a college entrance exam before the onset of 12th grade) after controlling for environmental factors (e.g. peers and school practices)? 2) What are the relative contributions of self-efficacy and agency to college-going behavior while controlling for environmental factors? 3) If the individual characteristics (e.g. agency and self-efficacy) are correlated with college-going behavior among college-capable Latino/as, are those relationships independent of environmental factors (peers and school practices), or is there an interaction between individual characteristics and environmental factors?

The participants for this mixed-methods study included 124 college-eligible Latino/a students from immigrant backgrounds and eight school counselors, all located within the same urban high school. Established and newly developed scales assessing individual characteristics (agency, self-efficacy, and help-seeking) and environmental factors (school college-going practices and peer resources) were utilized. The qualitative component of this study included interviews with the school counselors to contextualize and better understand the students' self-reported findings. Binary mediation analysis and modified grounded theory analysis were used to answer the research questions.

Results demonstrated that for college eligible Latino/a seniors, agency and peer resources had a significant and positive relationship with applying to a four-year college. In addition, peer resources mediated the effect of agency on the likelihood of a student submitting a college application. These findings demonstrated that for any given student, the odds of submitting a college application is dependent on a combination of their agency scores and peer resources, with peer-resources serving a meditational role. While a direct link between the qualitative findings and the quantitative findings cannot be made, the findings from the counselor interviews provided insight into the role played by peer resources and individual characteristics for some students. Specifically, agency and peer resources may interact to have more utility for students enrolled in schools with a weak college-going environment. This finding suggests that the investigation of college-going cultures and processes might be enhanced by the consideration of individual resilience characteristics and peer resources. Implications for school and schools districts are also discussed.

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