The Aspiration-Attainment Gap: Black Students and Education

By Buttaro, Anthony; Battle, Juan et al. | The Journal of Negro Education, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

The Aspiration-Attainment Gap: Black Students and Education

Buttaro, Anthony, Battle, Juan, Pastrana, Antonio, The Journal of Negro Education

Using a nationally representative sample from two waves of the National Educational Longitudinal Study (NELS), this research examines the aspiration-attainment gap that exists for Black students (N=823). This gap is a measure of the difference between the educational level students said they aspired to reach reported in 1988 when attending 8th grade versus the education level they actually attained in 2000.

Hierarchical OLS regression modeling reveals that after controlling for a variety of family, individual, and economic characteristics; parental involvement in a child's school life (social capital) is a predictor of a student's educational attainment. However, findings also reveal that investment in social capital does not necessarily make up for low levels of human capital. The authors offer suggestions for future theorizing and research in contextualizing the aspiration-attainment gap among Black students.

Keywords: academic attainment, academic aspirations, Blacks, interaction effects


Upon studying how roles and norms affect behaviors, social scientists also examine expectations and how this can have the capacity to influence a person's life chances. In the study of education, aspirations - or what a student expects to attain and achieve - are often looked upon as an indicator of future success. The purpose of the research in this article is to explore the dynamics surrounding the educational attainment and ultimate life chances of Black students, operationalized as the difference between initial aspiration and final educational attainment. This research seeks to understand how such factors as human, social, and economic capital affect the academic careers of Black students. It also considers how these forces interact in predicting attainment. In so doing, the findings of this research suggest that increasing educational attainment is complex and requires solutions that tackle key social and economic factors in tandem.

In this article, the term "Black" is used to refer to people of the African Diaspora, and to such populations that reside within the United States. Since this article purposely includes those who may be first-generation immigrants or who, for whatever reason, do not identify as African American, the term "Black" is employed. Furthermore, it is capitalized to distinguish the racial category and related identity from the color. Given the scope of this research and the key areas under investigation, what does one currently know about the academic attainment of Black high school students?


Adolescence can be a difficult time period for all teenagers. Teenagers are asked to mete out obethence and submission when their energies and desires for autonomy are increasing (Silverstein, 1973). Literature on Black teenagers has shown the effects that social origins have on adolescent experience and the common problem of making a transition from the child to the adult stage (Sebald, 1968). Racial status and enduring lower socioeconomic conditions seem to mark their adolescent transition, characterizing them with complex patterns of future educational attainment. In particular, studies have shown that even if there is a convergence of educational aspirations along race, this does not translate into comparable educational attainment (Ogbu, 1986; Roscigno, 1998). Referring to the aspirations of 7th graders, Simmons and colleagues (1991) argued that "[tjhere does not appear to be a problem in aspirations, but African-Americans may need help in translating these aspirations into behavior in later adolescence" (p. 505). Also, high educational aspirations expressed by Black students are less likely to be sustained (Kao & Tienda, 1998). Consequently, socio-psychological experiences during me high school years may produce an adjustment in terms of those aspirations (Sewell & Hauser, 1972). The implication is that educational aspirations may or may not indicate a personal motivation to achieve but they can be used as justification to continue schooling (Kao & Tienda, 1998).

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

The Aspiration-Attainment Gap: Black Students and Education


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?