Dreams Deferred?-- Exploring the Relationship Between Early and Later Postsecondary Educational Aspirations among Racial/ethinc Groups

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2006-04-27

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Title of Dissertation: DREAMS DEFERRED?-- EXPLORING THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN EARLY AND LATER POSTSECONDARY EDUCATIONAL ASPIRATIONS AMONG RACIAL/ETHNIC GROUPS

				      Michelle Asha Cooper, Doctor of Philosophy, 2006

Dissertation Directed By: Laura W. Perna, Ph.D. Department of Education Policy and Leadership

This study uses data from the Educational Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS:2002/04) to test a conceptual model that integrates aspects of sociological and econometric frameworks into a traditional status attainment model for educational aspirations.  Using descriptive and logistic analyses, this study advances understanding of the patterns and stability of aspirations; characteristics of students who increase, decrease, and maintain aspirations; predictors of 12th grade aspirations; and variations in predictors of 12th grade aspirations by race/ethnicity.  

This study's findings confirm previous research (Kao & Tienda, 1998; Qian & Blair, 1999) and generate at least four new conclusions. First, comparing findings from this study with data from the previous NCES cohort (i.e., NELS:88) shows that students' 10th grade aspirations have increased over the last decade. However, aspirations fluctuate between 10th and 12th grades, with a notable decline among Black men and Latino men and women.

Second, this study highlights characteristics of students according to the stability of their educational aspirations. The descriptive analyses illustrate the importance of background characteristics, academic measures, cultural and social capital, and economic constructs in illustrating whether students increase, decrease, or maintain aspirations between 10th and 12th grades.

Third, the study shows that the status attainment model continues to be an appropriate theoretical framework for the study of aspirations, but its explanatory power is enhanced by adding cultural and social capital and economic measures. Applying social and cultural capital theory to the examination of significant others (e.g., parents, teachers) provides more insight into the role and effect these individuals have on students' aspirations.

Fourth, the logistic regression analyses show that the predictors of aspirations vary by race/ethnicity, in particular for Latino/a and Multiracial students. Separate logistic regression analyses of Latino/a, Multiracial, and White students show that the predictability of the logistic regression model is lower for Latino/a students than for students of other groups.

The study's findings have implications for policy, practice, and research. Specifically, the findings reinforce the need for policies and practices geared toward enhancing existing high school reform efforts. The study also identifies five recommendations for future research.

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