Understanding the college-going aspirations of charter high school students and the role of social networks
While the literature on college access is extensive, little attention has been given to examining how charter high schools shape the college-going aspirations of students. The purpose of this study was to examine how students at one charter high school develop college-going aspirations, including what role the culture of the charter school plays in shaping their postsecondary educational plans. This investigation also examined how the school mission; physical setting; values; and strategies used by teachers, administrators, and parents, transmit and promoted a college-preparatory ethos.
The study was conducted using a case study approach, which drew upon over 150 hours of observations, document analysis, and one-on-one interviews with students, teachers, administrators, and parents (n=42). The analyses of the findings were guided by social capital theory with particular emphasis placed on discovering the role that social networks play in the formation of plans to attend college.
The findings of the study reveal that despite the presence of a college going culture, having access to college information and the support of teachers and administrators, students continued to have fragile and unstable attitudes about educational opportunities beyond high school. Peer influences, family pressures, and beliefs about financial aid and educational expenses were also found to be important factors in the decision of whether or not to seek additional education. For those inclined to attend college, these same factors tended to influence the location and type of college they considered applying to. Other important findings revealed that while students reported having positive relationships with school staff, many voice disappointment in their high school experience. Many students described the lack of proper facilities, athletic events, and school spirit as discouraging, which for a few students led to an ambivalent attitude toward the college-going culture of the school.
The implications of the study show how school officials can amend their policies and practices to ensure that students are better inculcated to the college-going culture of the school, adopt appropriate college and post-high school expectations, and are equipped with the social and academic resources for college access.
0458: Education Policy
0514: School administration
0519: School counseling
0533: Secondary education
0745: Higher education