Academic journal article College Student Journal

College Choice: A Study of African American and White Student Aspirations and Perceptions Related to College Attendance

Academic journal article College Student Journal

College Choice: A Study of African American and White Student Aspirations and Perceptions Related to College Attendance

Article excerpt

This study examined African American and White ninth grade students' aspirations for college attendance, utilizing the predisposition stage of Hossler and Gallegher's (1987) model of college choice as a conceptual framework. This study also introduced a measure of student perceptions of how well high school was preparing them for college. Findings revealed that African American students' aspirations for college attendance were similar to those of their white peers, even though African American students had lower levels of academic achievement. The study also showed that students who held negative perceptions of how well their high school was preparing them for college were less likely to aspire to college attendance.


Researchers contend that over the past four decades increasing attention has been focused on the processes by which students make decisions regarding college attendance (Perna, 2000; Hossler, Braxton, & Coopersmith, 1989). Factors that have influenced the increasing interest in the processes associated with students' college decisions include changes in the traditional and non-traditional student populations attending college, shifts in the demographics of the college age population, and increased competition in the higher education environment. In combination, these factors are forcing colleges to be more mindful of the choice process as it relates to recruitment and enrollment trends (Paulsen, 1990; Chapman, 1981).

College choice has been defined as the process a student experiences as he or she makes the transition from high school to college (Paulsen, 1990; Hossler et al., 1989; Hossler & Gallagher, 1987; Litten, 1982). Hossler and Gallagher (1987) contend that college choice takes place in three stages. Predisposition--the earliest stage of the college choice process--is the stage in which some students develop aspirations for college attendance (Hossler et al., 1989). A student who is able to maintain high aspirations for college attendance during the high school years will increase the likelihood of high educational attainment (Kao & Tienda, 1998; Campbell, 1983; Sewell & Shah, 1978; Sewell, 1971).

The second stage of the college choice process--search--is the point at which a student gains information that assists him or her in the evaluation of various characteristics of institutions for the purpose of identifying a good personal fit. This information also moves a student in the direction of making a stronger commitment to college attendance (Hossler et al., 1989).

The third and final stage of college choice--the choice stage--is generally reached by a student who gains a sufficient base of information on different colleges that can help him or her eliminate alternatives from a choice set. Having a base of knowledge allows the student to focus on one institution that will meet the student's individual needs (McDonough, 1997). It is important to note that a student may opt out of the college choice process at any stage (Hossler et al., 1989).

Purpose of this study

Aspirations have long been considered an important psychological aspect of a student's propensity toward college attendance (Kao & Tienda, 1998; Morgan, 1996). Even so, the literature related to African American student aspirations for college attendance presents conflicting information. Some studies contend that African American students aspire to college attendance at rates similar to their White peers (Kao & Tienda, 1998; Orfield & Paul, 1994) while other studies have shown that White students aspire to college attendance at higher rates than African American students (Paulsen, 1990; Tuttle, 1981; Kerckhoff & Campbell, 1977). The purpose of this study was to determine which of the aforementioned research-based assertions was represented in a sample of ninth graders, students most likely to be engaged in the predisposition stage of college choice (Terenzini, Cabrera, & Bernal, 2001; Hossler & Gallagher, 1987). …

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