Added December 29, 2017
Across the country, the vast majority of high school students aspire to attend college; however, not all of these students enroll. Indeed, many students who plan to attend college have limited college information, tools, and resources. Literature on the college search process has often focused on the school context as an important means of encouraging college aspirations and providing college planning information. Social capital, which is gained through social relationships, can improve student outcomes by transmitting crucial college information from school personnel to the student.
In the current study, we considered schools as social networks that can influence students’ decisions to attend college; these interactions between students and school staff could occur naturally in school settings. Using the Educational Longitudinal Study of 2002 national dataset, we sought to address the following research questions: What is the likelihood of students attending college if they were exposed to college expectations from school staff during high school? What is the likelihood of students attending college if they were exposed to college talk from school staff during high school.
We captured the intensity of college expectations in 10th and 12th grade by measuring the sum of the number of school staff (teachers, school counselors, and coaches) who had college expectations for the student. We also captured the intensity of college talk in 10th and 12th grade by measuring the sum of the number of school staff (teachers, school counselors, and coaches) who spoke with the student about college entrance information.
Descriptive statistics indicated that 48.5 percent of 10th grade students and 64 percent of 12th grade students perceived high intensity of college expectations, meaning that at least 3 adults in the school expected them to attend a postsecondary institution. For college talk, about 33.9 percent of students spoke with one adult about college in 10th grade and 42.3 percent spoke with one adult in 12th grade. Yet, almost 42 percent had not spoken with any adult about college in 10th grade, while just over 17 percent had not spoken with any adult about college in 12th grade. Our predictive models indicated that for every additional person that expressed college expectations to the student in 10th grade, the odds of that student attending college increased by 7 percent; in 12th grade, for every additional person that expressed college expectations to the student, the odds of that student attending college increased by 18 percent. Although college talk in 10th grade was not significantly predictive of college attendance, for every additional person with whom the student experienced college talk in 12th grade, the odds of the student attending college increased by 34 percent.
These results reveal that school counselors, teachers, and coaches play an influential role in facilitating students’ likelihood of attending college. However, while about half of the students indicated that they had received college expectations from a range of school personnel, not many students experienced college talk with multiple school personnel. Given that the results indicate that the intensity of expectations and college talk students experience is important, we recommend that more school personnel who have frequent interactions with students become providers of college information, in both formal and informal settings. Schools need to further develop their social networks with the intention of sharing concrete information and guidance on college going with students. For example, the ASCA national model promotes collaborations between teachers and school counselors so that classroom curriculum includes lessons applicable to the college application and enrollment process. The national model also provides a foundation for accumulated messaging about college going over time; the findings here emphasize a school wide support system across grades to express college expectations and engage in college talk, especially in senior year. Finally, school counselors should collect and manage data on formal and informal interactions about college. Record keeping can ensure that all students receive consistent messaging about college and that multiple aspects of the college search process are discussed. Once schools develop deeper social networks, in addition to school counselors, interactions with coaches and teachers, can be added to the database. Further, the database can promote practices that are grounded in the data and expand or supplement successful college advisory practices.
Julia Bryan, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Educational Psychology, Counseling, and Special Education at Pennsylvania State University in University Park, PA. Raquel Farmer-Hinton, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Educational Policy and Community Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Anita Rawls is a psychometrician with The College Board in Yardley, PA. Chenoa S. Woods, Ph.D., is a research faculty member with the Center for Postsecondary Success at Florida State University in Tallahassee.
Julia Bryan, PhD, Raquel Farmer-Hinton, PhD, Anita Rawls, Chenoa S. Woods, PhD
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