Contextual Predictors of Vocational Hope in Ethnic Minority, Low-Income Youth

Added April 20, 2018

School counselors are key agents in helping youth develop plans for life beyond high school, specifically with respect to future career guidance (ASCA, 2012). However, achieving career goals can be dependent on students' privilege and position within society (Diemer & Blustein, 2007). Some of the factors related to students' vocational expectations are examined in the research on future orientation, hope, and perceptions of control. These factors are important to examine within ethnic minority populations given that, due to factors such as discrimination and racism, these youth may feel less agency in determining their futures (Kenny et al., 2010; Threlfall, Seay, & Kohl, 2013). School and family support have been documented as protective factors for ethnic minority youth when examining the potential impact of socioeconomic risk factors on occupational expectations and outcomes (Chun & Dickson, 2010). Thus, the purpose of the current study was to examine whether two such contextual factors, parental involvement and school belonging, would influence feelings of personal control as well as vocational hope in a sample of low-income, ethnic minority youth.

Participants in the study were 163 adolescents ranging in age from 12 to 15 who attended two public K-8 schools in a major Midwestern city in the United States. Ninety-nine participants (61%) in the sample were male and 64 (39%) were female. Ethnically, 91 participants (56%) self-identified as Latina/o, 32 participants (20%) identified as African American, 16 (10%) identified as Asian American/Pacific Islander, 11 (7%) identified as Multiethnic/racial, with the remaining 11 participants (7%) being from other ethnic groups (e.g., Native American, Middle Eastern). The ethnic composition of the sample reflected the ethnic composition of the school. According to school SES data, 86% of the students qualified for free and reduced lunches.

Students responded to a paper-and-pencil survey that contained the following measures: Demographics and Educational Expectations, the Psychological Sense of School Membership Scale (Goodenow, 1993), a subscale of the Locus of Control Scale for Children (Nowicki & Stickland, 1973), the Parental Involvement subscale of The Family School Survey (Midgley et al., 2000), and Vocational Hope (Carr, 2015).

Structural equation modeling was used to examine the relationships among the primary variables and the extent to which personal control explained a potential mechanism by which school belonging and parental involvement would lead to vocational hope. We obtained statistical support for a model where personal control only acted as a mediator of the relationship between parent involvement and vocational hope, with school belonging having a direct effect on vocational hope.

The mediating role that personal control plays in the relationship between parent involvement and vocational hope suggests that parents' inquiries about school and involvement in monitoring their children's efforts/activities may send important messages about parents' belief that effort will pay off and that students' actions, not fate or chance, are what determines success. This echoes the research of Trusty et al. (2005) as well as Blustein et al. (2005), both of whom have advocated for the importance of increasing contextual supports in career education programs, and such collaborations are emphasized in the ASCA Model (ASCA, 2012). The direct relationship found to exist between school belonging and vocational hope suggests that schools are an important context for shaping expectations, support for students' goals, and peer norms around future goals and planning. For school counselors who work with ethnic minority students in schools where they are not statistically well represented, it becomes increasingly important to find ways to help students feel as though they are a valuable part of the school (Van Ryzin, 2011). This may be accomplished by providing opportunities for extra-curricular activities or by helping students feel that their ethnic identity is valued within the larger school culture (Hill & Torres, 2010). These findings also provide support for the role of personal control in understanding vocational expectations of ethnic minority youth. Given that parental involvement appears to have a positive effect on perceptions of control, efforts to increase parent involvement, at home and at school, are important to prioritize for ethnic minority students.

The results of this investigation suggest that vocational hope is a construct that can be promoted for low income ethnic minority youth and that the contexts of home and school can play important roles in doing so. The collaboration among students, parents, and school personnel sis considered crucial to successful education-career planning (Trusty et al., 2005) and is called for in the ASCA National Model (ASCA, 2012).

Elizabeth Vera, PhD, Loyola University Chicago; Andrea L. Carr, University of Missouri-Kansas City; Meghan K. Roche, Loyola University Chicago; Plamena Daskalova, Loyola University Chicago.


Elizabeth Vera, PhD, Andrea L. Carr, Meghan K. Roche, Plamena Daskalova