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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Underrepresented Students at Highly Selective Universities: Are Institutions Supporting Students’ Aspirations?
by Blatter, Andrew, Ph.D., The University of Arizona, 2020, 169; 27960850
Abstract (Summary)

Highly selective universities have long played a role as one of the gatekeepers to privileged positions in society. For the last century underrepresented students have been systematically excluded from these institution, resulting in social reproduction (Karabel, 2006; Bastedo & Jaquette, 2011; Giancola & Kahlenberg, 2016). With new “no-loan” policies attracting students with financial need, the numbers of underrepresented students at highly selective institutions may increase in the near future. The question as hand is, for the underrepresented students who attend highly selective universities, what are their experiences? Do the experiences they have demonstrate social reproduction within the learning environment?

This study builds on recent work by Dr. Anthony Jack (2019) who studied the experiences of underrepresented students, and resulting in two contributions to scholarship. The first contribution is to contextualize the phenomenon of cooling out/warming up (Clark, 1960; Deil-Amen, 2006) for the highly selective college environment. How are these students supported or discouraged by the institution from attaining their goals, and how is this different from the cooling out/warming up at less selective institutions? The second contribution is the inclusion of students who transferred to a highly selective university from a community college. There is scant research on these students’ experiences, and the opportunity to directly compare the learning environments of highly selective institutions with the learning environments of community colleges provides a unique perspective of student belonging.

To provide context for these contributions, chapter one addresses the historical role of highly selective institutions in promulgating social reproduction. While existing research documents the lack of admissions for low-income and racial/ethnic minority students at highly selective institutions, less is known about the stratification that happens as students experience the campus learning environment. Chapter two provides the supporting literature on this topic and demonstrates the conceptual framework for the present study, the Multidimensional, Multicontextual Model for Diverse Learning Environments model (Hurtado, Alvarez, Guillermo-Wann, Cuellar & Arellano, 2012). This model encapsulates the many nuances of the student experience and enables the linkages between students’ experiences and their aspirations. Chapter three outlines the research methodology, qualitative interviews with twenty-five students across three highly selective institutions, including transfer students and non-transfer students at each institution. The research questions for this study are, first, what are highly selective universities doing to cultivate a diverse learning environment that supports underrepresented students’ process toward their aspirations? Second, what can highly selective universities do to better support underrepresented students’ regarding the process toward their aspirations? Finally, what are the experiences of community college transfer students at highly selective universities? Are highly selective universities addressing these students’ needs? If so, how?

Chapters four through six contain the findings and resulting discussion from the data collected. The students interviewed were highly introspective of their experiences and the institutional role in their learning environment. Transfer students articulated having very different experiences at community colleges than at highly selective institutions, and often the learning environments were preferable at community colleges. For the students interviewed, they generally achieved their aspirations regardless of the level of difficulty they faced while in college. In addressing the research questions, highly selective institutions are supporting underrepresented students by expending the resources and organizational support for underrepresented students. Students spoke of a positive shift in the culture at their institutions. Students also spoke about opportunities to start realizing their goals while still in college using the resources availability at these universities. With that said, there are still prominent forces in the learning environment that hinder the success of underrepresented students. These range from the inability to participate in activities due to financial concerns, to the curriculum of STEM courses weeding out underrepresented students, to an inability to connect with overprivileged peers, which is particularly true for transfer students. The data collected demonstrate student resilience and skill for navigating systems designed to marginalize underrepresented students, which aligns with Yosso’s (2005) Cultural Community Wealth. Future research on this topic could benefit from including Yosso’s work. Finally, recommendations are provided to address how highly selective institutions can begin better serving underrepresented students, and suggestions for future research are provided.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Deil, Regina
Commitee: Rhoades, Gary D., Cabrera, Nolan L.
School: The University of Arizona
Department: Higher Education
School Location: United States -- Arizona
Source: DAI-A 81/12(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Higher education, Multicultural Education, Educational administration
Keywords: Aspirations, Highly selective universities, Social stratification, Transfer students, Underrepresented Students
Publication Number: 27960850
ISBN: 9798662387621
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