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Social, cultural, and institutional factors affecting the transition from high school to postsecondary education for Latino students in the state of Kentucky

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2009
Dissertation
Author: Gioconda Julixa Guerra Perez
Abstract:
One of the most important issues facing the educational system in the United States is the dramatic change in the socio-demographic aspects of society. The changing face of an increasingly diverse society is most represented by the fastest growing minority; nearly one in six residents is Hispanic. Institutions across the country are facing various challenges such as lower enrollment rates, lower academic success, and higher dropout rates in college due to the increasing number of Latino students entering postsecondary education. Latinos are now the most poorly educated population facing barriers from social, cultural, political and institutional factors. At the present time, a postsecondary degree is widely accepted as a basic goal in education. Latinos are underrepresented and lag every other ethnicity in attaining college degrees. The purpose of this study was to explore the experiences of Latinos during the transition period from high school to postsecondary education in Kentucky. Recently, the Commonwealth had a rapid growth of immigrants and refugees, much of which has occurred in urban areas, posing challenges for all institutions and levels of society. To facilitate analysis of patterns of inequality and racial exclusion that continue to exist for Latinos in the transition from high school to postsecondary education, Latino Critical Theory, which explains micro and macro social problems was applied. To explore the experiences and perceptions of the participants, the information was drawn from three main sources: (a) a questionnaire to collect demographic and personal data, (b) six focus groups, and (c) supplemental notes. Six higher education institutions across the state were selected, with 28 Latino undergraduate students participating. Quantitative analysis was performed to select a very diverse group of students. Qualitative methodology was used to examine and draw conclusion from the focus groups. Analysis revealed that financial issues related to family structure and socioeconomic background were influential in participants' decisions to pursue a postsecondary degree. Cultural factors, especially English fluency, were also relevant. Local communities and institutional factors (K-12, legal) had generally a negative impacts. Students shared experiences of discrimination, rejection, and isolation, plus positive assistance and success.

TABLE OF CONTENTS DEDICATION iii ACKNOWLEGMENTS IV ABSTRACT v TABLE OF CONTENTS vii CHAPTER I. STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM Higher Education and the Workforce 1 Higher Education in Historical Perspective 6 The Problem 15 Purpose 20 Research Questions 22 Significance of the Study 24 Limitations if the Study 27 Definition of Terms 29 Summary 30 CHAPTER II. REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE Introduction 34 Hispanic Demography 36 Historical Perspective on Higher Education for Minorities 40 Conceptual Framework 50 Barriers to Postsecondary Education 67 Access to Higher Education for Latino College Students 84 VII

Summary 96 CHAPTER III. METHODOLOGY Introduction 100 Qualitative Research 101 Sources of Data 112 Pilot Study 116 Procedures 117 Data Collection 120 Data Analysis 121 Validity and Reliability 124 Ethical Issues 128 Summary 129 CHAPTER IV. RESULTS Introduction 132 Content Review of Instrumentation 133 Pilot Feedback on Interview Guide 134 Procedures 135 Findings 142 Summary 214 CHAPTER V. ANALISIS AND RECOMMENDATIONS Introduction 219 The Study in Brief 220 Discussion 224 viii

Recommendations 269 Conclusion 277 REFERENCES 282 APPENDICES 303 Appendix A, Expert Review Instrumentation 303 Appendix B, Interview Mapped to the Research Questions 308 Appendix C, Variable Definition Mapped to Student Background Questionnaire 316 Appendix D, Pilot Feedback on Interview Guide 323 Appendix E, Interview Guide 329 Appendix F, Pilot Participants Letter 332 Appendix G, Consent Letter 335 Appendix H, Pre-Contact Letter 338 Appendix I, Email 344 Appendix J, Preamble and Student Background Questionnaire 346 Appendix K, Formal Letter 356 Appendix L, Confidential Agreement 358 Appendix M, Tables 360 CURRICULUM VITAE 363 i x

CHAPTER I STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM Higher Education and the Workforce Postsecondary education is increasingly viewed as a necessity for success in the 21st century global economy (Camevak, 2000). At the present time, a postsecondary degree is widely accepted as a basic goal in education and the United States (U.S.) labor market reinforces that expectation with substantial financial rewards (Fry, 2002). Business leaders are emphasizing the need for employees who are competent to function effectively in an increasingly diverse workplace and a changing global market (Bikson & Law, 1994). Increasingly, the workforce is likely to be very diverse in terms of ethnicity, educational level, age, and immigrant status (J. P. Fernandez, 1998). For example, almost one in eight workers and one in four low-wage workers are first generation immigrants (Schmidley, 2001). New immigrants tend to be young and in the prime range for working. It is estimated that 61 percent of new immigrant workers were under 35 years of age in 2000 (T. Moran & Petsod, 2003). In terms of education, around 59 percent of all U.S. workers have at least some college education (Fry, 2002). Minority workers are not only iess likely to have had satisfactory schooling and on-the-job-training, but they are more likely to have language and attitude problems (Hudson Institute, 1987). The language problem is particularly acute for most immigrants for whom English is a second language. It should be noted that the Hispanic share of the labor force has increased 1

progressively in recent decades due to high immigration rates (Gil & Citron, 1999). The rising educational level of the workforce has been brought about in large part by the demand for smarter and more skilled workers (J. P. Fernandez, 1998). An interesting observation is that over the last century, the U.S. labor market has shifted from agricultural to industrial and now service-related occupations in areas such as health and business (Castells, 2000). This indicates that the economy will continue to demand much higher levels of skills than the jobs that exist today (R. Miller, 1990) and better prepared workers with more education to meet those forces. The Changing Face of Postsecondary Education America has long been a country of cultural and linguistic diversity (Garcia, 2001). Yet despite this history, the U.S. is currently undergoing an even larger demographic transformation (Espinosa-Herald, 2003), of which Latinos are the fastest growing population (Gandara, 1994), reaching more than 35 million in 2000 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000). According to the latest numbers, it is estimated that Hispanics will comprise the largest minority in the United States by 2015. However, for some scholars, Latinos are already the nation's largest minority group (Gandara & Moreno, 2002; K.P. Gonzales, Jovel, & Stoner, 2004) with the population increasing by more than 40 percent between 1990 and 2000 (Lane, 2001). As the population changes, the landscape of education in general is also in flux. Teranishi, Allen, and Solorzano (2004) point out that perhaps one of the most important issues facing the educational system in the U.S. is the changing face of an increasingly diverse society. Among these ethnic groups, Latinos are now the most poorly educated population (Chapa, 1991; Fry, 2002). Latinos, just like other minorities, are underrepresented in higher education (K. P. Gonzales et al., 2004; Rodriguez, 1996) and ?

lag behind every other ethnicity in attaining college degrees, especially the bachelor's (Fry, 2002; Gandara & Moreno, 2002; Gil & Cmtron, 1999). Based on the projections of the U.S. Census Bureau (2000), in 2015, Hispanics will number approximately 46,705,000. Fry (2002) reports that Latinos are now the least educated (10.6 years of schooling) when compared with the rest of the population. That forebodes a large percentage of the 21st century workforce, necessary to keep the American economy functioning, that is not educated to a level consistent with required economic productivity. Institutions across the country are facing various challenges due to the increasing number of Latino students entering postsecondary education (Gregory, 2003). The barriers facing Latino students on their pathway to college in the 21st century are not substantially different from the obstacles other minorities have faced previously. These are basically cultural elements (Cortese, 1992) such as family background, language proficiency (Rumberger & Larson, 1998) and socioeconomic status (SES) (McClain & Karning, 1990), or political elements such as low representation in public policy (Fraga, Meier, & England, 1986; McClain & Karnig), immigration (R. Moran, 1996; Ogbu, 1992; Zhou, 1997), and racial and diversity issues (Hurtado, Milem, Clayton-Pederson, & Allen, 1999; Nieto, 2001). These challenges are being faced at almost every school district across the U.S. The influx of Latino immigrants that has shifted the demographics in border states and urban centers across the country is also taking root in interior states (Zehr, 2005). The highest percentage growth is occurring in the Western U.S. with an increase in elementary and secondary students (Provitera-McGlynn, 2004). For example, Arizona is projected to experience 55 percent growth between 2001-02 and 2017-18. The 3

implications of such social and demographic changes in this century create a need to provide equal opportunities in education to respond effectively to the population shifts, particularly for postsecondary education. Previous research has shown that Latino students face lower enrollment rates, lower academic success, and higher dropout rates in college compared with Whites (Fry, 2005b; Velez, 1989). The lower enrollment rates in college for Latinos are particularly relevant as this indicates that for some reason, the transition from high school to postsecondary education represents a barrier for many of these young people. The proportionately low numbers of Latinos in higher education as well as their higher attrition rates once they get there are of great concern both to the millions of these citizens across the United States and for the well being of the economy. Thus, it is extremely imperative to gain a better understanding of the factors that affect Latino students' experiences with respect to the transition between high school and college. Latino Identity To understand a group of people like Latinos and/or Hispanics, it is important to recognize who they are, where they come from, and when they arrived. For the purpose of this study, it is fundamental to indicate that there is a distinction between the words Hispanic and Latino. Unlike terms used to describe a racial background, Latino and Hispanic are used to describe an ethnic background. One problem for this study is ensuring that these terms are used without creating misinterpretations. Recently, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (2005) described Latino as a term that depicts people from Spanish-speaking countries of the Americas. The term is meant to include many aspects of cultural and linguistic identity. Besides sharing the legacy of European colonization, mainly Spanish (V. Torres, 2004), Latinos are 4

comprised by Spanish-speaking people, Portuguese-speaking Brazilians, French-speaking Guiana and Central and South Americans speaking native languages, such as Quechua, Guarani, and Quiche. It can be concluded that there are numerous dimensions of what being a Latino means; no one factor such as language, culture, sense of historical background, or race adequately captures the term. On the other hand, the term Hispanic can be tracked back to the sixteenth century (Del Olmo, 2001) to refer to a group of people from the Iberian Peninsula. Nowadays, the use of the term Hispanic has raised misinterpretations. This word was used by the U.S. Census Bureau in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s to unify a group with many similarities and differences (M. Delgado, 2007). This usage describes individuals from Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, South and Central America, or other countries of Spanish culture of origin, regardless of race (Cortese, 1992). Large communities of Latin Americans and their descendents have often preferred the term Latino because it is thought to be more inclusive of the broad range of peoples in the Americas and less derivative of Spain. It is typically contrasted with Anglo-American and (English-speaking) African American. When used in the U.S. the term Latino may have racial connotations which are absent in Latin America. Latinos are a heterogeneous group, diverse among themselves. Thus for the purpose of this study, both words will be used depending on the appropriateness of their particular meanings in a given context. Furthermore, different authors utilize one or the other of the terms as they interpret them within the framework of their research. Since the aim of this study is not focused on linguistic analysis per se, no further explanation will be provided. For additional explanation, see M. Delgado (2007). 5

Higher Education in Historical Perspective Education in early America was both private and elitist. The earliest schools can be traced back to the first English colonies. Soon thereafter, the first colleges were started: Harvard, William and Mary, and Yale. By the time the United States proclaimed its independence in 1776, there were dozens of schools and nine colleges already established among the thirteen colonies (Westmeyer, 1985). Historically, education in the U.S. has not been equal to all, though the Declaration of Independence (based on the ideas of John Locke) indicates that all men are created equal. Although the original formulation of the constitution and American society did not live up to these lofty ideals (Bell, 1989), the power of those ideas—that all people should be treated equally, regardless of gender, nationality of origin, religion, age, race or ethnicity, and disability—has slowly but surely led to greater inclusion of groups not originally covered by the equality mantle. This gradual progress, even in the face of strong opposition by some groups, reflects the deeply rooted concept of human equality in America (R. Miller, 1990). Although current beliefs in America are much more inclusive, it is easy to overlook the reality that immigrants have traditionally been excluded from equal participation in education. Historically, with the exception of the English settlers, postsecondary education has been essentially inaccessible to previous groups of newcomers. The experience of the latest generation of immigrants is not unique in that regard (Garcia, 2001). According to Chavez (1991), other groups such as the Germans, Irish, Italians, Greeks, Jews and Poles struggled to be accepted into the social, political, and economic activities of the mainstream society. Mitigating these problems, however, Berrol (1995) indicates that these earlier waves did not have to complete any particular 6

level of schooling in order to participate fully in the industrial economy at the turn of the 20th century, although racism continued to be a significant factor for various non-white groups. In most instances, these groups were restricted from higher education and as Weinberg (1977) notes, access to public education generally has been limited on the basis of race and ethnicity in this country. For Native Americans, higher education was practically denied, beyond learning the English language and culture. American Indians, who according to Thomas Jefferson needed to adopt the culture in order to survive (Takaki, 1993), had a very advanced society based on democratic principles (Joseph, 1995), but their perception of life was different, a factor that caused the rejection of their practices and the imposition of the worldview of Europeans. Currently, immigrants constitute an increasingly significant demographic group in the U.S. higher education, and they still face barriers when accessing education. Postsecondary education institutions must improve the climate for diversity on campuses to respond to the demands of new students (Hurtado et al., 1999), who will typically be traditional age students, but with a very different racial and ethnic composition. The presence of Latino students in higher education requires educators to reconsider the basic assumptions that allow all students to participate fully in the system. Higher Education for Blacks Despite the limited view of who was deserving of these freedoms in the early years of America, the ideals in the Declaration of Independence have over time inspired a more inclusive education system. Before the Civil War, free Negroes were excluded from higher education almost as completely as slaves were (Weinberg, 1977). Similarly, Native Americans were practically excluded from higher education. Schooling for 7

Indians was basically the conversion to Christianity (Thelin, 2004; Weinberg). In the southern states, the opportunities for becoming educated were so limited that Negroes were not allowed to form their own educational institutions or hold meetings anywhere without the direct supervision of Whites (Joseph, 1995). From the time of the arrival of the first Africans until 1850, very little education was offered to them. By the middle of the 19th century, access to college was opening to a wider spectrum of the population. Historically limited to elites, the middle and working classes were beginning to push for greater educational opportunities. The impact of the Civil War and the opening of the frontier were both reflected in the drastic changes in U.S. higher education in the 1860s. The Morrill Act of 1862 stands out as pathbreaking legislation that signaled the entrance of the federal government into public policy, dealing specifically with the establishment of the land-grant colleges (Westmeyer, 1985). After all, land was cheaper and more abundant than money for recently admitted states on the frontier (Thelin, 2004). Even though the development of education in the south had been slow and basically imperceptible prior to the Civil War (Thwinbg, 1906), the Morrill Act opened doors and the emancipation of the slaves created, for the first time, the conditions for the higher education of Blacks (Weinberg, 1977). Thus with the events of the Civil War and the massive westward migration, it was natural that the movement to educate the "other"—both poor Whites and minorities, rural and urban—began to prevail in many parts of the country, especially in the south where four million Blacks were slaves and uneducated (Takaki, 1993). Many historical Black colleges got their start after the 1860s, with land-grant universities helping not only Blacks but also middle class farmers and workers. Nonetheless, Black education was also significantly sustained by northern 8

missionaries and independent groups of ex-slaves who created and funded schools in the South, as was the case in Louisiana and Georgia (Anderson, 1988). The federal government provided incentives for each state to sell distant western lands to fund advanced education institutions (Thelin, 2004); however, this distinctive gift did not have much actual impact in the south for black colleges. This period was basically to lead efforts to establish the legal, institutional, and moral foundation of universal schooling for ex-slaves (Anderson, 1988). It was the revision of the Morrill Act legislation in the 1890s that made possible the extension of the land-grant program to two excluded groups: Black colleges and historic state colleges in the South (Thelin). Yet by the end of the nineteenth century, the possibility of progress for Blacks was distressingly remote (Takaki, 1993). All public institutions were under-funded and black institutions were disproportionately neglected with respect to facilities, salaries, and staffing (Thelin). Therefore, private schooling provided educational instruction for most of Blacks at the turn of the century (Anderson). The new century brought another act of racial discrimination. In 1896, the Supreme Court decision of Plessy v. Ferguson was a landmark in the jurisprudence of the United States by approving racial segregation in public facilities, including schools. Once again, minority students were receiving inadequate education, i.e., suffering in the quantity and quality of formal education (Schaefer, 1990). Several attempts were made to outlaw measures of segregation and discrimination in education, public housing, public health services, and other public services and facilities. In 1948, Congressman Frank Keefe offered an amendment to the appropriation bill, in which no funds were be paid as grants to any state or educational institution in which discriminatory practices based on race, color, or creed were used to deny equality 9

of educational opportunity or employment to anyone (Reid, 1951). The amendment was rejected. A few other legislative efforts to eliminate segregation were made during the first half of the 20th century, but most were rejected, defeated, or recommitted. Despite the relatively few favorable legislative actions that were proposed during this period, segregation was finally outlawed in 1954 when the Supreme Court declared in the Brown v. Board of Education case that "to distinguish among races in order to separate was inherently discriminatory" (Schaefer, 1990, p. 101). The educational history of the children of minority groups in America is marked by enslavement, oppression, and exploitation (Weinberg, 1977). Racial and ethnic discrimination has been a fundamental characteristic in the education of minorities. Some scholars have indicated that the common denominator for such low achievement is, more than anything else, the socioeconomic status of the family (cf. Huston, McLoyd, & Garcia-Coll, 1994a, 1994b; McLoyd, 1998; Rothstein, 2004). Other studies link discriminatory practices experienced by both minorities and lower classes to economic and political power (see Loury, 2002; Tilly, 1998). Still, in the 21st century the educational disparities of minority groups continue to warrant discussion among politicians, educators, and policymakers. The discrimination, economic hardships, and socio-cultural differences represent ongoing barriers that are reflected in low achievement, dropouts, low enrollment, educational gaps, and more (P. R. Portes, 1996, 2005; Yun & Moreno, 2006). Such barriers have a negative impact on the idealism of achieving the so-called American dream. What needs to be done in order to balance education among all groups? This is a question that is yet to be answered. Higher Education for Hispanics 1 0

The higher education of Mexican-Americans paralleled the experience of Native Americans and African Americans. As the U.S. acquired western states in the mid 1800s, the situation of education for the southwestern states (California, New Mexico, Nevada, and parts of Colorado, Arizona, and Utah) was very much similar to that in the southern states. Nonetheless, Mexicans, the major group in the region, were segregated by language and culture. For a long time, Mexicans were deprived of access to formal education and were often alienated from their language, customs, laws, and habits (Takaki, 1993). Segregation of Hispanic students, particularly in California and Texas, began in the late 1800s (see Fraga et al., 1986). For example, it was not until the turn of the 19th century that the first schools were assigned for Mexican Americans and the collegiate history of this group had barely begun by World War I. Mexican Americans have not been the only Latino group that has undergone educational difficulties in their efforts to succeed in the U.S. culture. The political status of Puerto Rico changed after the turn of the 20th century, when the island became a U.S. colony (Nieto, 2000). Puerto Ricans also have a different culture and language that have created barriers and gaps in educational attainment (Donato & Wojtkiewicz 1996). It was not until mid 20th century that Puerto Rican students began attending mainland colleges. Other Latino groups such as Cubans and Central Americans began to immigrate after the 1950s, so their educational experience flourished in the last decades of the 20th century. Recent Latino Immigration and the Pathway to College A new wave of Latino immigrants has settled in the U.S. in the last two decades. Latino immigration to this country has been extensively researched (Bach, 1987; A. Portes & Rumbaut, 2006; Takaki, 1993; V. Torres, 2004); accordingly it is not the 1 1

intention of this study to offer a detailed explanation of the factors and reasons for their immigration. Here only a sketch of their movement is provided; Chapter II contains a brief review of immigrant groups and their experiences. The dream of the majority of the latest Latino immigrants in this country has been to become economically successful, just as for previous groups of immigrants. According to Garcia (2001) a set of formal educational skills can be instrumental to obtain that goal. Yet, their efforts to fit into the country seem largely unfeasible. They confront enormous challenges such as cultural barriers (i.e., language and family structure), vulnerability of immigrant status, restrictions on access to public health services and benefits, and an education system that does not always respond to their needs. The vast majority of the research in higher education examines the Mexican American experience (Gandara, 1995). It is probably justified since Mexican Americans represent the majority of the Latino population in the U.S. (V. Torres, 2004). In the decade of the 1980s, immigrants from Mexico alone accounted for more than one fifth of total legal admissions as well as half of undocumented immigrants (Zhou, 1997). It is estimated that between 56 to 66 percent of the Hispanic population in the U.S. is of Mexican origin (M. Delgado, 2007; Passel, 2004; V. Torres), with other large groups from Puerto Rico and Cuba. The current educational status of these subgroups is alarming. In 2004, the Pew Hispanic Center published the Latino Youth and the Pathway to College Report (Swail, Cabrera, & Lee, 2004). The data came from the National Educational Longitudinal Study (NESL) and some conclusions gathered from the data were: 1. Over half of Latino students came from families with incomes less than $25,000 a year, while only 7.5 percent had a family income of $75,000. Only 23 percent of White students came from families below the $25,000 level, and 1 2

18.3 percent were $75,000 and above. 2. Only half (49.4%) of Latino youth had a parent who had gone to college, and only 14.1 percent had received a bachelors' degree. 3. Seventy-three percent of Latinos aspired to go to postsecondary education, but only 55 percent did—a full 20 percent lower than the national average. 4. Latinos have, on average, more risk factors than any other student group except African Americans. Risk areas where Latinos are overrepresented include parents without a high school diploma, low-family income, changing schools, among others. 5. A much higher percentage of Latinos participates at two-year schools compared to other student groups. 6. More than twice as many White students from a sample of 1000 students who initially enrolled at a four-year institution earned a BA compared to Latino students. (Swail et al., pp. 4-6) These facts only represent a few of the findings in which the status of Latino students in education is depressed relative to middle class Whites. There is also a widespread belief that learning English is the key to immigrants succeeding in the American society (see Cortese, 1992). However, Rumberger and Larson (1998) conducted a study in an urban school system in California where 75 percent of the population did not speak English at home. Adopting John Ogbu's explanation of immigrant status on the relationship between minority languages and cultures versus the majority language and culture (cited in Rumberger & Larson), their findings suggest that achieving proficiency in English was a necessary but not sufficient condition for Latino students to succeed in American schools. Ogbu's socio-cultural perspective validated their conceptual framework: for schools to be successful in assimilating language- minority students, they must do more than simply teach English. Previous studies have supported this finding (R. M. Fernandez & Nielsen, 1986; Tienda & Neidert, 1984; Zhou, 1997). 13

Full document contains 377 pages
Abstract: One of the most important issues facing the educational system in the United States is the dramatic change in the socio-demographic aspects of society. The changing face of an increasingly diverse society is most represented by the fastest growing minority; nearly one in six residents is Hispanic. Institutions across the country are facing various challenges such as lower enrollment rates, lower academic success, and higher dropout rates in college due to the increasing number of Latino students entering postsecondary education. Latinos are now the most poorly educated population facing barriers from social, cultural, political and institutional factors. At the present time, a postsecondary degree is widely accepted as a basic goal in education. Latinos are underrepresented and lag every other ethnicity in attaining college degrees. The purpose of this study was to explore the experiences of Latinos during the transition period from high school to postsecondary education in Kentucky. Recently, the Commonwealth had a rapid growth of immigrants and refugees, much of which has occurred in urban areas, posing challenges for all institutions and levels of society. To facilitate analysis of patterns of inequality and racial exclusion that continue to exist for Latinos in the transition from high school to postsecondary education, Latino Critical Theory, which explains micro and macro social problems was applied. To explore the experiences and perceptions of the participants, the information was drawn from three main sources: (a) a questionnaire to collect demographic and personal data, (b) six focus groups, and (c) supplemental notes. Six higher education institutions across the state were selected, with 28 Latino undergraduate students participating. Quantitative analysis was performed to select a very diverse group of students. Qualitative methodology was used to examine and draw conclusion from the focus groups. Analysis revealed that financial issues related to family structure and socioeconomic background were influential in participants' decisions to pursue a postsecondary degree. Cultural factors, especially English fluency, were also relevant. Local communities and institutional factors (K-12, legal) had generally a negative impacts. Students shared experiences of discrimination, rejection, and isolation, plus positive assistance and success.