Date of Award

Fall 12-12-2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

PhD Higher Education Leadership, Management, Policy


Education Leadership, Management and Policy


Eunyoung, Kim, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Joseph Stetar, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Christopher Tienken, Ed.D.


Socio-cultural, college choice, African American, educational outcomes, college participation rates


Given the gap in the college choice literature about the decision-making process students use when making a decision on whether or not to attend college (McDonough & Calderone, 2010), the purpose of this study was to explore urban high school students’ perceptions of the structural factors that may influence their post-secondary educational aspirations and career plans. By working with students and guidance counselors at Sheridan High School, categorized as an urban high school but located in a rural area in the mid-Atlantic region of the country, the research team was able to gain information about how students navigate the college choice process and decide to enter or not to enter post-secondary education.

Three supplemental theoretical approaches, the college choice model (Hossler & Gallagher, 1987), multicultural navigator model (Carter, 2005), and cultural capital and habitus theory (Bourdieu, 1977, 1990), were utilized in this study to analyze the social and cultural factors that impact urban students’ development of paths to post-secondary education. This study explored the challenges urban students face while navigating the college choice process and the strategies they use to surmount obstacles to enter post-secondary education.

Nine students (African American and White) participated in the study over a three-year period at a high school categorized as an urban high school but located in a rural area in the mid-Atlantic region of the country. The students and their families lived either in the city of Sheridan or in three small rural towns within the district. At the start of the study, all of the students stated that their goal after graduating from Sheridan High School was to go to college. The study indicates that White students were significantly influenced by their parents, who made sure the students were in Sheridan’s Honors and International Baccalaureate programs, which were deemed to better prepare students for college by faculty, guidance counselors, and administrators in the school, whereas African American students (eligible for the free- and reduced-lunch program) did not received significant support or clear information about the college choice process from their parents; and the students did not develop succinct plans for post-secondary educational opportunities.

There is ample research to support that African American students can achieve similar educational outcomes to White students if they are exposed to professionals and professional careers during their formative years (Freeman, 2005; McDonough & Calderone, 2010; Pitre, 2006). School officials should work with local social originations and community leaders to create and foster programs that engage professionals (mentorship, tutoring, career shadowing, college counseling) to help students develop and shape their post-secondary and career plans.

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