Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

An invisible population speaks: Exploring college decision-making processes of undocumented undergraduates at a California State University campus
by McWhorter, Elizabeth Beeler, Ph.D., Indiana University, 2015, 262; 3732254
Abstract (Summary)

Approximately 65,000 undocumented immigrants graduate from American high schools annually, among them valedictorians and salutatorians. Only about 6,500 of these prospective future leaders go on to college. There are 50 different state-level immigrant-tuition policies, most of which severely limit undocumented students’ college/university and financial aid options. This study is situated in the state of California, whose Master Plan for Higher Education aims to grant college access to all Californians and whose favorable immigrant-tuition policies work toward that end; it could serve as a model for U.S. states with restrictive or neutral immigrant-tuition policies. To date, there is limited discussion of undocumented student college choice in the higher education literature. To explore how undocumented students navigate college decision-making in the U.S., this study uses the conceptual constructs of Perna’s (2006) contextual college choice model, Hossler and Gallagher’s (1987) foundational choice model, and single-element models (chain enrollment and proximity). These frameworks and Dervin’s Sense-making Theory (1999-2014) helped me retrospectively explore the college choice of seven undocumented men and women attending a Bay Area Cal State University campus in 2013.

The study’s purpose warranted a qualitative research design and case study approach. I connected with interested students, shared my background, answered questions, and sent them my IRB-approved Study Information Sheet and demographic survey. We developed rapport over several months, engaging in a series of in-person interviews and other interactions. I kept field notes and journaled reflexively. I transcribed all 14 interview recordings via Dragon speech software, coded the transcripts and analyzed the data via MaxQDA data analysis software.

The findings revealed overarching themes related to: parental expectations and encouragement, habitus (e.g., gender & cultural traditions, birth order & responsibilities, home life), financial situation, K-14 context, higher education context, social context, and policy context. What distinguishes this study is the exploration of undocumented students’ college choice, inclusion of student voices, and implications for public policy and college enrollment professionals’ practice. It provides insight into how undocumented youth choose a college located in a state whose country values the common good and economic success yet is torn on its people’s higher education rights.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Hossler, Donald, Nelson Laird, Thomas
Commitee: McGregor, Eugene B., Palmer, Megan
School: Indiana University
Department: School of Education
School Location: United States -- Indiana
Source: DAI-A 77/03(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Higher Education Administration, Social psychology, Education Policy, Secondary education, Individual & family studies, Higher education
Keywords: California state university, College choice, Enrollment professionals, Policymakers, Undergraduates, Undocumented
Publication Number: 3732254
ISBN: 978-1-339-19109-6
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