“Everybody Say They’ll Go to College, but Until You Grow Up, You Don’t Really Understand”: Examining the Contextual, Relational, and Networked Experiences of College Bound Students from Traditionally Underserved College-Going Populations
Attending and graduating from college has become an essential tool for social mobility over the last several decades. However, despite efforts to expand opportunities to increase college access for all students, there is ongoing evidence of meaningful disparities in the rates of postsecondary enrollment among students from traditionally underserved college-going populations, including low income, minority, and first generation college-going students. The present dissertation examines the core assumptions of college for all, which may inadvertently replicate inequality. The dissertation is presented in three parts. The first paper examines the foundational theoretical literature that frames college access scholarship and identifies the strengths and limitations of existing theoretical frameworks used to investigate college access. I rely upon the empirical literature to develop an alternative model: The Ecological Model of College Access. The second paper, draws on data from 54 interviews with college-going seniors from two college for all high schools. It examines how students leverage relationships within and across settings (e.g., home, school, and community) to access multiple dimensions of support throughout the college access process. The results highlight students’ ecological experience of support, as well as the scaffolded experiences with support. For example, findings suggest, during the aspiration and expectations phases, emotional, motivational, and informational support emerge as the most critical dimensions; in contrast, during the dual search, emotional, motivational, and instrumental support manifest most powerfully. Additionally, the data highlight characteristics of relationships students leveraged strategically for support. Finally, the third paper employs Tseng and Seidman’s (2007) theoretical framework of settings to explore how setting-level factors mediate students’ experiences. An in-depth assessment of the social processes germane to college access reveals key similarities and differences between the two schools. The findings highlight a number of settings-level factors (e.g., relationships, participation, and norms) that dictated the quality of students’ experiences throughout the college access process. Cumulatively, these three papers highlight the complexity of the college access process and the requisite sources of support required to ensure that students’ experiences are provided in a way that maximizes their potential for successful enrollment in a postsecondary institution matched to their social, academic, and financial needs.