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Insidious Power: The Structure of Community College Course Placement Counseling

  • Author(s): Maldonado, Carlos
  • Advisor(s): Franke, Megan
  • Wagoner, Richard
  • et al.

Past research has shown slightly mixed results about the relationship between community college academic counseling and Latino student experiences. Latino student experiences with academic counseling have been shown to be positive within the context of a special program. However, researchers have not examined how academic counseling is related to course access for Latino students. Given limitations of past research, this dissertation sought to examine counselor and Latino student perceptions of academic counseling within the contexts of mathematics and English course placements.

I studied two large and diverse community colleges in southern California utilizing an embedded multiple case study design. A total of 34 counselors and 28 Latino students were interviewed using snowball and purposive sampling techniques. Other data collected were: field observations, screenshots of college websites, course catalogs, and other relevant documents and artifacts. Relative Autonomy of the State and Social Identity Contingencies were invoked as guiding theoretical perspectives.

The major finding was a relationship between academic counseling and course access for Latino students, and three themes described such relationship. The first theme was a relationship between counselor perceptions about the placement test and perceived accuracy of course placements. Counselors reported that course placements were mostly accurate and did not need cross checking. The second theme was that there was a relationship between counselor perceptions of resources and their perceived role in course placement counseling. Counselors reported that for some students course placements were not accurate, but counselors could not conduct cross checks because they did not have access to the necessary complex resources of authority and ability assessment. The third theme was a relationship between counselor perceptions of Latinos and perceived accuracy of remedial course placements for Latinos. While counselors reported that flaws in course placement accuracy were inevitable, Latino students’ remedial course placements were an exception.

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