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College as a Mental Construct: Contrasting the Cognitive Frames of Latina/o Parents and Policymakers

  • Author(s): Perez, Wendy Yezennia
  • Advisor(s): Rogers, John S.
  • et al.
Abstract

Although Latinas/os are the fastest growing population in California, their attainment of Bachelor’s degrees is not keeping pace with their rapidly increasing numbers. In the literature, little attention is being given to mental structures, or cognitive frames, that Latina/o parents and policymakers have regarding college. People use cognitive frames to organize and understand experience. Thus, framing can lead to radically distinct understandings related to college. My study examined how Latina/o parents and policymakers framed the value and purpose of college, who belongs there, and why there is a college access problem. Importantly, I also explored what factors influence the development and maintenance of cognitive frames as well as analyzed race within emerging cognitive frames. Understanding the similarities and differences in the cognitive frames of Latina/o parents yields critical information about why many Latinas/os do not ultimately pursue a postsecondary education. For policymakers, documenting their frames illuminates ways that they could set policy agendas related to college for Latina/o students. In my study, I used qualitative methods, including semi-structured interviews with 10 Latina/o immigrant parents and eight policymakers in one metropolitan region in Southern California. Findings indicate that Latina/o immigrant parents and policymakers have deep frames for the importance of college, but most Latina/o parents’ frames for college quality are still emerging. A second finding is that most Latina/o immigrant parents frame differential educational opportunities and outcomes in terms of individual circumstances, while policymakers frame these as systemic phenomena. Third, while sources of college information that shape the frames of Latina/o parents and policymakers are different, both rely on their own experiences to shape their frames about college. Lastly, most Latina/o parents held an equity frame where all children should go to college, while most policymakers held the frame of choice where all children should have the choice to go to college.

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