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Attainment in the Era of High Expectations: Racial and Ethnic Differences in the Effects of Adolescent Plans on Educational Success in Young Adulthood

  • Author(s): Villalobos, Amber
  • Advisor(s): Brand, Jennie E
  • et al.

Adolescents with high educational and occupational expectations are more likely to experience positive attainment outcomes in young adulthood. While most adolescents express high expectations, continued racial/ethnic disparities in attainment warrant renewed investigation of the expectation-attainment relationship. I examine racial/ethnic heterogeneity in the expectation-attainment relationship using nationally representative data from the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS) and the High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS). In Chapter 2 I examine whether the relationship between adolescent educational expectations and enrollment in a four-year college differs by race/ethnicity and whether this relationship changed over time. I find that the expectation-enrollment relationship is positive for all students, but it is smaller for black and Hispanic students in the ELS cohort. However, for the HSLS cohort, the gaps have largely closed. In Chapter 3 I use ELS to examine the relationship between adolescent educational expectations and college completion, whether this relationship varies by race/ethnicity, and how much of the relationship is direct versus mediated. I find a positive effect of high educational expectations on college completion for all groups. Thus, pre-college social background factors appear to account for much of the explanation as to why black and Hispanic students do not translate their expectations into completion. Yet, the mediating effects of on-time college enrollment are significantly larger for those who are black and Hispanic. Although black and Hispanic students are less likely to enroll in college, enrolling in college on-time helps link their expectations for college to college completion. In Chapter 4 I use ELS to examine the effects of having uncertain occupational expectations (relative to high) during adolescence on two educational outcomes. I find that occupational uncertainty during adolescence is negatively associated with degree attainment in young adulthood such that adolescents who report occupational uncertainty are less likely to attain bachelor degrees and less likely to attain advanced degrees or be enrolled in an advanced degree program by age 26 than their peers with high occupational expectations. Although white and Hispanic students were more likely to be uncertain, the effects of uncertainty on degree attainment were similar across racial/ethnic groups in the sample.

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