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The Influence of Relational Knowledge on the Transition out of Secondary School: An Investigation of How Social Capital and Social Goals Affect Educational Pathways
AuthorLowman, Jennifer L.
AdvisorEvans, Mariah D. R.
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Perceptions of opportunity and the costs and benefits associated with pursuing higher education have been investigated by social scientists though not tied to an understanding of how students and their families navigate the educational system. Research has focused on the point of transition and neglected the process of arriving there. In particular the roles of certain preparatory activities in which students engage and for which schools provide services and resources remain terra incognita. To address this gap in research, this study investigated the availability and identification of useful knowledge held in both family and school relationships that supports procedural preparation for college and explains the persistence of unequal circumstances on educational pathways. Using the Educational Longitudinal Survey (2002-2006, students = 16k; schools = 750) and by means of multilevel structural equation modeling (MSEM), discussions with parents about preparing for college had a consistent, positive influence on procedural preparation independent of social background or achievement. Discussions with parents had a positive influence on the timing of academic procedures, such as taking entrance exams, as well as application behaviors, such as applying for financial aid. Friends behaviors and student beliefs about college cost also had an influence on procedural preparation. That said, academic achievement was the most important predictor of procedural preparation and enrollment in college. The intervening role of achievement revealed how disadvantages that were evident at the beginning of high school became expressed in behaviors that facilitate educational attainment. Historically under-represented students were the least likely to engage in early preparation due to poor math achievement. School norms and services did explain a small proportion of procedural preparation and enrollment; but, school effects were very small. There are important implications of this research for developing college knowledge, especially for school counselors and auxiliary college preparation services (e.g. Upward Bound, GEAR UP). Students need to have strong academic achievement coming out of middle school and into high school to effectively prepare for college. Students need the support of families and friends to develop college awareness and engage in college preparation. Theoretically, there are implications for social capital theory and the theory of maximally maintained equality.