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Open Access Publications from the University of California

College-Going Culture in an Underresourced Urban High School: Examining Latina/o College Choice and Navigation

  • Author(s): Acevedo-Gil, Nancy
  • Advisor(s): Solorzano, Daniel G
  • et al.

This qualitative case study examined the college-going processes at an underresourced urban high school with a large Latina/o student population. This dissertation addressed gaps in the college-going culture literature and shortfalls in college choice models. At the organizational level, this dissertation revealed the conceptualization and application of college-going efforts within the larger school culture. At the student level, this dissertation identified how college-going efforts shaped the college choice, transition, and navigation pathways of Latina/o students who aspired to earn a bachelor's degree.

I merged three theoretical frameworks to guide this study. First, Critical race theory in education served as the overarching frameworks for this study to challenge deficit discourses on race and racism as they relate to education. Second, to examine college-going efforts, I utilized a school culture lens, which I defined as a set of actions informed by the intersections of structures, climates, and individual agency. Third, college-choice organizational habitus bridged the school and student-level processes by revealing how college-going efforts influenced the college expectations, choices, and enrollments of the participants. Grounded theory and critical race grounded theory served as guiding methodological frameworks in the data collection and analysis stages. Sources of data included oral histories with 57 students at two different points in time. The first round of interviews occurred during the twelfth grade in high school, and the second round occurred approximately six months later, after the participants' first college term. Data also came from semi-structured interviews with 17 practitioners and administrators, who supported college efforts, and from observations of college preparation events during one school year. Data analysis occurred through contextual analysis, coding, triangulation, and theoretical memos.

The first finding established that policies and funding resulted in a school culture of continuous change, instability, and marginalization. Four climates occurred as a manifestation of the school culture, which included four overlapping climates: high aspirations, college-going, low expectations, and surveillance and control. Climates of high aspirations occurred in spaces where educators aspired for students to succeed in college. College-going climates resulted within climates of high aspirations depicted by educators integrated college-going activities into schooling processes. Educator participants also created climates of low expectations, which were rooted in deficit ideologies. The climate of low expectations resulted in a climate of surveillance and control, which entailed the use of security measures and regulations that aimed to control student behavior. The climates of low expectations and surveillance and control inhibited college-going efforts by not equipping participants with the skills required to navigate post-secondary educational institutions.

The second finding determined that college-going climates resulted from individual educator efforts and entailed preparing students for postsecondary pathways. The college-going climate included several elements, such as: a college and career center, collaborative efforts with college outreach programs, community college outreach, college-going teachers, college visits, engaging with students' identities, and internships. College-going climates included sub-climates that focused on vocational or four-year college pathways. Student participants were more likely to access an in-depth college-going climate, which focused on preparing for admission to a four-year postsecondary institution, if the student participant maintained a high grade-point-average. On the other hand, the student participants who planned to attend a two-year college were more likely to receive information and support to enter a vocational pathway--regardless of the aspirations to transfer from a two-year college to a four-year college.

The third finding revealed the processes that Latina/o participants experienced when establishing college-going and college-navigating identities. In the third finding, I integrated Gloria Anzald�a's (2002) pathway to conocimiento to bridge the participants' college choice and college integration process by establishing the conocimiento colegial framework. I defined conocimiento colegial as a seven-stage process that resulted in a reflective collegial consciousness where Latina/o participants used their ethnic/racial identity and social positionalities to successfully navigate college. The non-linear stages included participants: aspiring to attend college, searching for college information, questioning abilities to succeed in college, applying to colleges, choosing a college, clashing with college, and then navigating college successfully. Within each stage, the college-going climate supported and hindered the participants' conocimiento colegial pathways.

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