Awakening to a Dream Deferred: When Aspirations Meet Reality for Low-income Minority Students in Their Transition to College
Regina Deil-Amen

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



Pennsylvania State University

Primary Discipline

This study uses in-depth, open-ended qualitative interviews to explore the sense-making activities of graduates of five high-poverty, racial minority high schools with regard to their college knowledge and plans and their actual implementation of these plans. More specifically, I examine how and why the college degree goals and aspirations of a group of low-income, Black and Latino, high school students change over time.The students were interviewed and surveyed in their senior year in high school regarding their college and career plans, aspirations, knowledge about college and admissions and financial aid procedures, attitudes toward school, and the level and type of support, encouragement, and information from their family, school, and peers. These students are being re-interviewed at the end of what, according to their plans, should be their first year of college and again after what should be their second year of college.Prior theory and research suggest that community college students experience a “cooling-out,” or lowering of their aspirations, but researchers have not directly examined the thoughts and decision-making experiences of students over time as they enter and exit different post-secondary contexts. Analyses compare the differences between students who enroll in community colleges and students who enroll in other types of colleges with regard to a) the content and certainty of their the initial aspirations, b) whether or not their aspirations become stronger, weaker, altered, or reformulated and c) the reasons for changes in their aspirations, with particular attention paid to institutional influences.This study may highlight the potential ramifications of a paradox that exists within our ‘open access’ educational structure. I explore the possibility that these students are deceived by a ‘college-for-all’ ideology that encourages the pursuit of a college degree in a postsecondary context in which such an attainment is highly unlikely, particularly for the population of students in the study. Are these students’ hopes and plans unrealistically high? Is their knowledge of college so limited as to inhibit their ability to construct realistic strategies regarding their future?
About Regina Deil-Amen

Pin It on Pinterest