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Predicting the academic attainment of African-American students

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2009
Dissertation
Author: Kenneth C Davis
Abstract:
The current research analyzes a set of survey data to determine what factors best predict the educational success of young African-Americans. Examining a national sample of 1,176 African-American students taken from the National Educational Longitudinal Study 1988-2000 (NELS), the following research examines three constructs that are associated with educational attainment: (1) Family Structure and Social Status, (2) Parental and Peer Influence, and (3) Social Bonding. Logistic regression modeling is used to illustrate which of the three constructs has the most predictive strength in assessing educational achievement levels of young African-Americans. In this study the construct of Family Structure and Social Status includes variables reflective of parental marital status, number of siblings, family income, parent education, and the availability of educational resources in the home. The construct measuring parental and peer influence includes variables reflective of the student's interaction with their parents and friends. The Social Bonding construct has been developed from a reformulation of Hirschi's social bonding theory to redirect the focus of analysis providing a theoretical context to predict which African-American youth will exhibit positive educational trajectories. Several variables have been selected that reflect the four components of social bonding: attachment, belief, commitment, and involvement. Though several factors contributing to the successful completion of high school differ from those that lead to the successful completion of a four-year degree, the results of this study convincingly demonstrate that, of the three constructs under study, Social Bonding emerges as the most robust predictor of educational success among young African-American students.

TABLE OF CONTENTS Page LIST OF TABLES ix CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION 1 Contrasting Indicators of Social and Educational Progress 1 Travis Hirschi's Social Bonding Theory Revisited 3 Contextualizing the Theoretical Perspective 6 Historical Perspective and the Efficacy of the Intra-Group Analyses 7 The Organization of the Study and the Research Question Restated 10 CHAPTER 2 HISTORICAL BACKDROP 12 Historical Factors Affecting the Educational Attainment of Slaves and their Descendants 12 Post-Revolutionary War Period 12 The Post-Bellum Period 15 The Civil Rights Period 19 The Post-Civil Rights Period 22 CHAPTER 3 LITERATURE REVIEW AND THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVE.... 29 Major Constructs Reviewed 29 Family Structure and Social Status 29 Number of Parents in the Family 32 Educational Level of Parents 36 Number of Children in the Family 37 Family Income 39 vi

Page Educational Resources 42 Parental and Peer Influence 44 Peer Influence 45 Parental Influence 48 Social Bonding 51 Attachment 52 Belief. 54 Commitment 57 Involvement 60 Social Bonding Theory Reformulated 61 CHAPTER 4 METHODOLOGY 63 Hypotheses 64 Sample 66 Variable Measurements 68 Dependent Variables 68 Greater Than or Equal to High School/GED vs. Other 68 Bachelor's Degree or Higher vs. Other 69 Independent Variables 69 Family Structure and Social Status 70 Single-Parent Family 70 Parents' Education 70 Number of Children 71 vii

Page Household Income 71 Educational Resources 71 Parental and Peer Influences 72 Parental Influences 72 Peer Influences 73 Social Bonding 74 Attachment Bond 74 Belief Bond 75 Commitment Bond 76 Involvement Bond 76 Analysis Plan 77 Missing Data Issues 78 Test for Collinearity 78 CHAPTER 5 CORRELATION ANALYSIS 79 Family Structure and Social Status Measures 81 Peer and Parental Influence Measures 81 Social Bonding Measures 83 CHAPTER 6 DATA ANALYSIS 85 CHAPTER 7 FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS 107 REFERENCES 119 APPENDIX A TEST FOR COLLINEARITY 132 APPENDIX B CHART OF VARIABLES 134 viii

LIST OF TABLES Table Page 1. Correlation Coefficients between Family Structure/Social Status, Peer/Parental Influences, Social Bonding, and Educational Attainment for Young African-American Students 79 2. Models for Completion of High School Diploma for Family Structure/ Social Status with Peer and Parental Influence 86 3. Models for Completion of a High School Diploma for Family Structure/ Social Status with Social Bonding 90 4. Logistic Regression Coefficients for Models of Completion of High School Diploma among Young Adult African-American Students 94 5. Models for Completion of Bachelor's Degree for Family Structure/ Social Status with Peer and Parental Influence 97 6. Models for Completion of Bachelor's Degree for Family Structure/ Social Status with Social Bonding 101 7. Logistic Regression Coefficients for Models of Completion of Four- Year Degree among Young Adult African-American Students 104 IX

CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION This study tests the relative influence of family structure and social status, peer and parental influence, and social bonding on the likelihood that African-Americans will reach specific levels of educational attainment. In so doing this study will identify several factors impacting the academic trajectories of African-American students who enter the system of formal education. Contrasting Indicators of Social and Educational Progress Over the past three decades this country has seen a growth in African-American participation in every walk of life, ascending even to the highest national position of President of the United States. In the sphere of educational attainment, the topic of interest for this study, several advances are notable. In the past access to education by slaves and their descendants was stifled by social and legal prohibitions. However, since the 1970's, changes in the social and political climate of the United States have helped to significantly reduce de jure institutional impediments, making it feasible for African- Americans to participate as students, teachers, and administrators in public and private institutions of learning. This increased participation has had positive effects. African- American students have fared increasingly better as elementary school students, showing significant improvements in reading and math scores (National Assessment of Educational Progress [NAEP], 2003). During this same period 88% of African-American high school students earned a high school diploma. Also, between 1971 and 2006, the number of African-Americans between the ages of 25 to 29 who had completed some post-secondary education increased from 18% to 50% (Child Trends Data Bank, 2007). The increased number of African-American participants in mainstream education not

2 only is indicative of reduced social and legal barriers, but also has enhanced the social and economic benefits derived from that involvement. In contrast to these positive advances, the fact that in 2006 only 19% of African-Americans age 25 to 29 had successfully finished post-secondary schooling (Child Trends Data Bank, 2007) is a topic of concern for the African-American community as well as for institutions of higher education. The increased rate of completion in secondary education juxtaposed against the relatively low college completion rate raises the question of just what factors that predict high school completion are not carried over to success in post-secondary institutions. The goal of this study is to identify what variables best predict the educational attainment levels of African-American students as well as to better understand what must be done to help increase completion rates for the growing number of African-Americans entering college. In contextualizing this research it is also important to identify a stasis, if not the deterioration, of the social and economic mobility of large numbers of African- Americans (Wilson, 1987, 2003). Economic marginality increases the exposure of African-Americans to a host of social, medical, and emotional problems resulting in high costs for remediation as well as the loss to society of critical human potential and resources. As seen in research, educational attainment is highly correlated with earning potential. Specifically, Amato's 2000 study revealed that college graduates earned over $17,000 a year more than high school drop-outs, with other research showing that for every year of schooling the direct effect on income approximates $1,000 a year (Son, Model & Fisher, 1989). As such, in a society where education has proven to be the key to achieving good jobs—and from that social mobility and economic security—finding the

3 best predictors of educational attainment could prove beneficial to the African-American community as well as to the society as a whole. Travis Hirschi's Social Bonding Theory Revisited A significant body of contemporary research on educational attainment draws on Pierre Bourdieu's construct of habitus and the various forms of capital he developed while studying the French university system (as cited in Harker, 1990). Examples of this are seen in the research of Roscigno and Ainsworth-Darnell (1999) and Kalmijn and Kraaykamp (1996). Both studies explore the effects of cultural capital on educational achievement levels. Dumais (2002) also explores the impact of cultural capital on educational outcomes—doing so, however, in light of Bourdieu's construct of habitus. The current study employs Hirschi's social bonding theory in conjunction with several more widely used control variables that compose the constructs of Family Structure and Social Status and Peer and Parental Influence, for an enhanced theoretical perspective compared to other studies. First, one can readily identify in the construct of Family Structure and Social Status variables that subsume Bourdieu's constructs of social, cultural, economic, and symbolic capital. Second, Hirschi's belief bond incorporates dynamics closely associated with Bourdieu's habitus, a factor identified in the research of Dumais (2002) that uses a measurement of "belief' in operationalizing habitus. Third, Hirschi's social bonding theory provides additional analytical dimensions through the bonds of involvement, attachment, and commitment, all of which should prove highly significant when addressing minority populations. As such, the current study offers a theoretical perspective that will not only prove unique to the study of

4 educational attainment but will also enhance the potential for the emergence of new information relative to the educational trajectories of African-American students. In framing the use of social bonding theory, as reformulated in the current study, the following research explicating the dynamic of "usefully available" is instructive. First, the below example of the prisoner of war study provides critical information demonstrating that even in life-death situations socialization can precondition individuals to respond in ways that are not necessarily in their best self-interest. Second, Hirschi (2002) clearly shows socialization as an integral component in the development of his construct of Social Bonding. It is the dynamic of socialization in content and in intensity that has serious implications related to African-Americans and educational attainment. The current research employs the Social Bonding construct as a measure of the strength and directionality of socialization through the various bonding elements and to show how the anticipated in-group variance in socialization affects the educational trajectory of Black Americans. Decades ago, during wartime, a phenomenon emerged that raised questions among social scientists. This phenomenon involved the marked differences in the survival rates of two different ethnic groups of prisoners of war (POWs). Both groups existed within the same camp, were exposed to similar conditions, and shared the same resources such as food and shelter. One group survived the experience almost to the man, even nursing their sick and wounded back to good health. The other group reflected a high rate of mortality, even among group members who were once healthy. Research concluded that the main difference between the two groups was that the values and habits embraced by one group helped moderate the exigencies of the prison camp whereas the

5 values and practices of the other did not. More specifically, the difference in outcome stemmed from the fact that one of the groups relegated life-sustaining resources that were accessible, namely the kind of food, as not being "usefully available" (Synder, personal communication, 1962). That is, the group with the high survival rate was able to eat foods considered by the other group as inedible. In sum, the survival rate within each of the groups of POWs was influenced by their respective values and life experiences relative to the types of food deemed acceptable to eat. Employing the concept of "usefully available" is especially germane to discussing the outcomes of the current study. Being socialized within a particular culture has an impact on perceptions. When considering that African-Americans are socialized in a society that is racialized (Omi & Winant, 1994), then the degree to which one internalizes the strictures imposed by racism affects what is perceived as the openness of society and what is then seen as the importance of educational attainment and the opportunities tied to same. There are two ways this study attempts to facilitate a clearer understanding of the African-American educational experience: first, by not engaging in cross-race comparisons and second, by avoiding the tendency towards reductionism by acknowledging that behavior is shaped by the students' "unique demographic and background characteristics, cultural histories, economic origins and statuses" (Wilkinson, as cited in Taylor, 1998 page 11) as well as the political, social, and economic dynamics at play in the overall society (Baca Zinn & Eitzin as cited in Taylor, 1998). In considering factors that impact educational achievement levels of African- American students, this study presents an analytical dimension not often employed in

6 such assessments by incorporating a reformulated application of Travis Hirschi's social bonding theory. Added to an evaluation of the extent to which the constructs of Family Structure and Social Status and Peer and Parental Influence predict educational trajectories, the Social Bonding construct permits an analysis of attachment, belief, commitment, and involvement and their effects on overall attainment levels. As well, this analytical model will help clarify the question of why some African-American students show higher attainment levels than others. Contextualizing the Theoretical Perspective Barriers related to the education of slaves and their descendants have included legal prohibitions forbidding their education (Davis, 1998; Carroll, 2006), and the segregation of schools as legally sanctioned through the Plessey v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision (Postema, 1997). To remediate historical as well as more contemporary impediments, political and social pressure and legal measures have made primary and secondary public education more accessible. These pressures and legislative actions have also resulted in policies affording special consideration and dispensations for African- Americans and other minorities applying for admission to post-secondary institutions (Beeman, Chowdhry, & Todd, 2000). There is clearly a need for research to provide contemporary assessments of dynamics affecting African-Americans and their education in view of changes in racial attitudes and policies that have occurred in major American institutions and society at large. Shifts in political, economic, and social dynamics affect the role and social location of Black Americans (Omi & Winant, 1994). Hence when such changes occur they affect

7 the degree to which major social institutions and African-Americans relate to each other as well as the style and content of that interaction. By focusing solely on African-Americans, this study will follow the research design prescribed more than one hundred years ago by W.E.B. DuBois. In his presentation to the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences, DuBois stated that when studying the African-American social scientists should use research models that include an assessment of the impact of history and culture, and the influence of social, economic, and political factors. He went on to attest that in omitting these elements the outcomes of research so undertaken would be "distorted" (as cited in Hill, 1993). (It is of interest to note that DuBois clearly identifies this as the methodology employed in his study, The Philadelphia Negro, published in 1899). As such this study will include a chronicle of significant historical events to provide a comprehensive analytical context in which to assess the impact of history on contemporary issues in the education of African-Americans. Historical Perspective and the Efficacy of the Intra-Group Analyses This study does not use cross-race comparisons so as to avoid the potential pitfalls found in inter-group analyses as identified by several social scientists. Among the literature in support of intra-group analysis is the work of W. Allen (1978), William Julius Wilson (1978, 1987), and Melvin L. Oliver and Thomas M. Shapiro (1997), all of whom have identified drawbacks to cross-race comparisons. As such, this research introduces an important analytical dimension in having one group as the subject of analysis. Concentrating on one group facilitates a focus on factors that specifically impact

8 the population under study, thereby enhancing the chance of producing targeted results that better inform social discourse and policy development regarding educational success. This research will examine educational outcomes among African-Americans only and will not attempt a cross-racial comparison. In the early 1940's researchers adapted the intra-group analysis model and focused on the African-American community without employing cross-race comparisons (A. Davis, B.B. Gardner, & M.E. Gardner as cited in Tucker & Mitchell-Kernan, 1995; Drake & Clayton, 1945). Their work produced a picture of African-Americans that was not constricted by comparisons to a majority group analyzing subjects based on their degree of Anglo conformity. As such the outcomes were void of the problematic aspects inherent in and produced by other researchers' attempts at comparisons between racial groups (Tucker & Mitchell-Kernan, 1995). In more contemporary times, sociologists, influenced by Durkheim's comparison- group methodology developed in the 1950's, undertook comparative research of ethnic and racial groups here in the U.S. and struggled with the fact that, after controlling for variables such as income, education, socioeconomic status, gender, and age, a significant amount of unexplained variance remained (Martin & Yeung 2003; Whiteside-Mansell, Bradley, Little, Corwyn, & Spiker, 2001). Different models and theories were developed to better address the methodological problem of cross-race comparisons. However, even with such efforts unexplained variances still remained due to undetected or undefined dynamics. Attempts to better understand educational outcomes were no doubt complicated by the shifting definitions and implications of race, the mercuric nature of which can be attributed to the fact that it is a social construct and hence shaped by social, economic, and political forces (Omi & Winant, 1994).

9 Allen (1978) describes the problem of cross-race comparisons as one of perspective. He states that the point of view embraced by the researcher biases conclusions in comparative studies between African-American and Anglo-American populations. More specifically, he defines the following three perspectives: "cultural equivalent," "cultural deviant," and "cultural variant." Explained, the cultural equivalence perspective examines African-Americans in light of class factors, though the underpinnings of this model rest on the degree to which African-Americans assimilate middle-class Anglo-American values. The cultural deviance model views the values and behaviors of the African-American as dysfunctional or even pathological. The cultural variation model, as described by Allen, does not advance a negative perspective but looks at research findings relative to African-Americans as valid and positive outcomes as determined by cultural experience. Of the three, Allen (1978) endorses the last, identifying the former two as fostering racial bias. The cultural variation perspective, the one applied to this study, looks at research outcomes as positive and valid results determined by the socio-cultural experiences of African-Americans. Other research supportive of intra-group analyses is found in the work of William Julius Wilson (1978) and Oliver and Shapiro (1997). Wilson (1978), as does DuBois (1899/1996), asserts that, without establishing the proper context, comparisons across races mask inherent biases and result in flawed analyses. This assertion is based on what Wilson (2003) identified as the different social and economic contexts in which African- and Anglo-Americans live, making comparisons between these two racial groups problematic.

10 Oliver and Shapiro (1997), though noting the diminishing income gap between Anglo- and African-Americans, demonstrate that Anglo-Americans are five times wealthier than African-Americans. In addition to its material advantages wealth is associated with symbolic capital that, according to Bourdieu (1977), is readily associated with "prestige, status, and authority." Oliver and Shapiro (1997) conclude that comparisons of the economic viability between racial groups are biased if the origin and benefits of wealth are omitted and income becomes the only financial measure used. As a final note, Wilson (1978, 1987, 2003) identifies a critical need for in-depth, intra-group research targeting African-Americans. He states that the proclivity towards cross-race comparisons has hindered the development of sound assessments of the social, economic, and political dynamics affecting African-Americans. Further, Wilson (2003) suggests that problems also arise when race becomes the focus, as it tends to mask the more subtle forces impacting the life chances of the contemporary African-American. The Organization of the Study and the Research Question Restated The focus of the current research is to identify which construct—Family Structure and Social Status, Peer and Parental Influence, or Social Bonding—emerges as the most robust predictor of educational achievement among African-Americans. Modeling the approach recommended by DuBois (1899/1996) and what Allen (1978) identified as the cultural variation perspective, this study investigates the effects of family structure and social status, peer and parental influence, and social bonding on educational attainment among African-Americans.

11 The historical contextualization in combination with the cultural variation perspective offers a viewpoint having the potential to yield new insights into dynamics impacting the educational achievement of today's Black American. In addition to the current section, this study includes six additional chapters. The second chapter provides a historical context for the current research by identifying major social markers that over time have affected the educational attainment of African- Americans. The third chapter then provides a review of literature pertinent to the research as well as a detailed explanation of Hirschi's social bonding theory and how it is applied to this study. In chapter four the reader will find an explanation of the variables selected and methodology used to undertake the required analysis as well as a listing of the hypotheses to be tested. Chapter five contains the analyses of correlations and chapter six the data analysis. The findings are presented in chapter seven along with a summary and conclusions.

CHAPTER 2 HISTORICAL BACKDROP The current chapter begins with an overview of racial dynamics affecting slaves and their descendants throughout American history to provide a context for this study of the educational achievement of African-American youth. The historical analysis will be followed by an examination of contemporary literature supporting the major constructs used in the study—Family Structure and Social Status, Peer and Parental Influence, and Social Bonding. Historical Factors Affecting the Educational Attainment of Slaves and their Descendants In this section, the following four periods are considered and presented chronologically: Post-Revolutionary War Period, The Post-Bellum Period, The Civil Rights Period, and The Post-Civil Rights Period. Framing the current study within historical markers provides a context for examining current dynamics that influence African-Americans and education and reveals the congruence between past and contemporary debates surrounding the issue. Though many of the blatant policies and practices that restricted the access of African-Americans to educational resources have been eliminated or mediated by law, more subtle inhibitors rooted in past attitudes and beliefs warrant continued study and research. The findings of the current study hold the potential to shed additional light on a subject that remains a national interest. Post-Revolutionary War Period [W]e are a race of beings who have long laboured under the abuse and censure of the world, that we have long been considered rather as brutish than human and scarcely capable of mental endowments. (Banneker, 1791, as cited in Carroll, 1990, p. 83)

13 During the early phase of America's history, English law guided the rules governing African slaves (Reynolds, 1985). Upon winning the Revolutionary War, the colonies gained their independence and set about developing their own government and constitution. During the Constitutional Convention, debate ensued as to the legal status of the colonies' populations of African slaves, both immigrant and native born. The outcome of the debate was manifested in the Constitution with provisions for the return of runaway slaves; a census directive counting the slave as three-fifths of a person; and support for the continuation of the slave trade until 1808, twenty-one years after the writing of the Constitution (Farley, 2005; Jordan, 1968; McKissick, 1969; Reynolds, 1985). In the South slaves, as well as some Black freedmen, were banned from attending schools (LeMay, 2005; Davis, 1998). In part, this was due to a then-popular notion that a literate slave population would revolt. As a result, laws were imposed making it illegal for individuals to teach slaves how to read or write or for slaves to learn on their own (McLamore, Romo, & Gonzales Baker, 2001). Among the many arguments used to justify slavery, and one that formed a foundation for questioning the intellectual capacity of those enslaved, was the notion that Africans were savages. This perspective was no doubt part of a conceptualization of "the other" that gained prominence as a result of a national chauvinistic point of view advanced by early explorers such as Pizzaro, Cortez, and Columbus (Zinn, 1980). Such attitudes and values dominated much of the early thinking and found expression within the first British colony established in Virginia in 1607. Early colonists referred to non- Europeans as "savages" and ascribed to these peoples attributes supportive of a

14 subordinate role and status (Smedley, 1993). During this period slaves were perceived as inherently inferior, childlike beings (Dollard, 1949; Stampp, 1956). In 1758 these concepts were galvanized by the classification system of Carolus Linnaeus who identified Africans as "crafty, indolent, negligent, and governed by caprice" (as cited in Jordan, 1968, p. 221). When compared to the depiction of Europeans as gentle, acute, inventive, and governed by custom, the depiction of Africans was readily appropriated by proponents of slavery to justify the subjugation of African slaves for lifetime servitude (Jordan, 1968). The conceptualization of human differences is also seen in the 1790's when pro-slavery advocates responded to petitions before the House of Representatives for the abolition of slavery by using arguments against abolition built on Linnaeus' system. Employing almost identical verbiage, pro-slavery elements described slaves as "indolent, improvident and adverse to labor [and they,] when emancipated . . . would either starve or plunder" (Jordan, 1968, p. 326). Though revolts and attempted insurrections were strong indications of the oppressive nature of slavery, Van Den Berghe (1958) identified this phase in American history as "paternalistic." He states that society was caste-like with clear rules governing the role of slaves and their subordinate position to their masters and Anglos in general. Anglos living in a slave society knew well the prohibitions related to educating slaves and the social ostracism or physical harm they faced for breaching this norm. Nevertheless they availed themselves, teaching slaves whose thirst for education caused them also to risk physical punishment and even death in their attempt to learn to read and write (Cornelius, 1983). It is important to note that freedmen did have access to private colleges and universities some years before the Civil War. It has been recorded that the

15 first African-American to graduate from a college was John Russworm, who graduated from Bodwin College in 1826. Also, before the Civil War, several post-secondary institutions provided higher education for freedmen (Logan, 1958). Notwithstanding these exceptions, the overall impact of educational prohibitions kept slaves and their descendents from achieving basic literacy. The Post-Bellum Period Some had the feeling that in proportion as the Negro received education, in the same proportion would his value decrease as an economic factor in the state. [I]n their minds [were] pictures of what was called an educated Negro, with a high hat, imitation gold eye-glasses, a showy walking-stick, kid gloves, fancy boots, and whatnot. . . It was difficult for these people to see how education would produce any other kind of a coloured man. (Washington, as cited in Carroll, 2006, p.l 12) After the Civil War, denigrating myths aimed at America's new citizens of African descent were refined by pseudoscientific theory, newly emerging research, and theological pronouncements. In 1859 Charles Darwin's seminal work The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life [Origin of Species] formed bedrock support for a depreciated status of the African-American. Graves (2001) goes further to suggest that Darwin's theory was used to support the notion that Anglopeans possessed a biological makeup that was superior to that of other peoples. Support for slavery was drawn not only from science, but also from the religious community. Interestingly, such support was seen in a book written in the same year as Origin of Species. The following quote from Slavery—Ordained ofGod (Ross, 1859/1969) is representative of attempts to introduce the "ultimate authority" in order

Full document contains 154 pages
Abstract: The current research analyzes a set of survey data to determine what factors best predict the educational success of young African-Americans. Examining a national sample of 1,176 African-American students taken from the National Educational Longitudinal Study 1988-2000 (NELS), the following research examines three constructs that are associated with educational attainment: (1) Family Structure and Social Status, (2) Parental and Peer Influence, and (3) Social Bonding. Logistic regression modeling is used to illustrate which of the three constructs has the most predictive strength in assessing educational achievement levels of young African-Americans. In this study the construct of Family Structure and Social Status includes variables reflective of parental marital status, number of siblings, family income, parent education, and the availability of educational resources in the home. The construct measuring parental and peer influence includes variables reflective of the student's interaction with their parents and friends. The Social Bonding construct has been developed from a reformulation of Hirschi's social bonding theory to redirect the focus of analysis providing a theoretical context to predict which African-American youth will exhibit positive educational trajectories. Several variables have been selected that reflect the four components of social bonding: attachment, belief, commitment, and involvement. Though several factors contributing to the successful completion of high school differ from those that lead to the successful completion of a four-year degree, the results of this study convincingly demonstrate that, of the three constructs under study, Social Bonding emerges as the most robust predictor of educational success among young African-American students.