The Educational Pathways of Former Gang Members from K-12 to College Graduates
Adrian Huerta

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



University of Southern California

Primary Discipline

Higher Education
More than 1 million youth are involved in gangs across rural, urban, and suburban communities in the U.S. While past studies on gang-associated youth have focused on violence and victimization, (mis)treatment in educational spaces, and overuse of punitive social control methods, few studies have centered on gang members? educational aspirations and achievements. I use the Possible Selves theoretical framework to guide this qualitative study to analyze in-depth interviews, documents, and photos. The research will examine the educational pathways, barriers, and successes of former gang members who earned a college degree (e.g., Bachelor?s, Master?s, or doctorates). I draw from interviews with 50+ former gang members who were active in their gangs for a few years to more than 20 years. This study seeks to advance understanding of how, why, and when people left their gangs, the social processes to transition and excel in higher education, and the multiple motivations to ultimately earn a college degree. The findings from this study will offer a richer and deeper perspective on the social and educational experiences of gang-associated youth and adults to better support and engage this population throughout the educational pipeline to promote postsecondary education over deficit-laden perspectives and barrier creation for gang members.
About Adrian Huerta
Adrian H. Huerta is an Assistant Professor of Education in the Pullias Center for Higher Education at the University of Southern California?s Rossier School of Education. He uses qualitative methods to broadly explore the sociocultural experiences of boys and men of color and gang-associated youth/young adults with a focus on college access, (in)equity, and success. His publications appear in American Behavioral Scientist, Journal of College Student Development, Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, The Urban Review, Urban Education, and others. He is co-PI on a $990,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education to develop pathways to higher education for gang-associated youth and young adults to earn college degrees, certificates, or credentials with Long Beach City College. Dr. Huerta?s research has also been supported by the ECMC Foundation, and the Institute for Research on Poverty/JPB Foundation. He is a recipient of the American Educational Research Association?s Minority Dissertation Fellowship. He earned his Ph.D. and M.A. in Education from the University of California Los Angeles, a master?s degree from The Ohio State University?s College of Education and Human Ecology as well as a B.S. in Human Services from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He is a member of the inaugural cohort of Health Affairs? Racial Equity Health Fellows, which supports translating his gang-focused research to public health policymakers.

Pin It on Pinterest