Academic journal article Social Work

Solution-Focused Social Work: Metamessages to Students in Higher Education Opportunity Programs

Academic journal article Social Work

Solution-Focused Social Work: Metamessages to Students in Higher Education Opportunity Programs

Article excerpt

Students who enter higher education opportunity programs (HEOPs), like other disadvantaged groups, frequently feel as if they are viewed as different, of limited ability or motivation, untrustworthy, and perhaps unwanted. In the authors' experience as academic advisors and educational social workers, the perceived devaluation of their race or socioeconomic status has caused many students in HEOPs to identify themselves with academic and career failure. Such students generally feel blamed and disempowered and subjected to the "us versus them" attitudes of schools and communities. "Us versus them" orientations concretize the students into separate, unequal, and perhaps even adversarial categories and create dichotomies such as black versus white or rich versus poor. Traditional problem-focused social work frequently reinforces this negative grounding in spite of the good intentions of social workers.

This article demonstrates the usefulness of a solution-focused methodology, especially with those who feel demeaned, disempowered, and oppressed. Special attention is given to students in higher education opportunity programs, but this methodology can be successfully used with others who feel separated by "us versus them" orientations.

Higher Education Opportunity Programs

In this article, the phrase "higher education opportunity program" has a broader meaning than it does in New York State, where the phrase refers only to publicly funded educational opportunity programs in private colleges and universities. HEOP here refers to all educational opportunity programs in higher education whether in public or private educational institutions or whether publicly or privately funded. HEOPs emphasize the educational development of students and the expansion of educational opportunities for those from economically and educationally disadvantaged backgrounds. They go beyond the narrow criteria of remedial programs, subsidized tuition, or specific colleges or universities. HEOPs build on the ideal of equal access to higher education for all citizens by extending opportunities "to persons who have been academically and economically disadvantaged" (New York State Education Department, 1990, p. vi).

Students in HEOPs

HEOPs serve people traditionally underrepresented in higher education. For example, in New York State for the 1989-90 academic year, 93 percent of the students in HEOPs had gross family incomes under $18,000 a year, and 61 percent had annual incomes below $8,300. Forty-two percent of the HEOP students were black, 29 percent were Hispanic, 19 percent were white non-Hispanic, and 9 percent were Asian (New York State Education Department, 1990). The majority of students in HEOPs are students of color because of the economic and educational disadvantages confronting nonwhite populations. These disadvantages appear to be particularly devastating for males: "People talk about the fact that the black male has been disappearing from college campuses; so has the Hispanic male, in a precipitous drop in the last 10 or so years - about 20 percent in terms of participation rates" (Barry, 1991, p. 5).

Philosophical Assumptions of HEOPs

The philosophical assumptions that support higher education opportunity programs as opposed to remedial programs are similar in many ways to the assumptions that accompany solution-focused social work versus problem-focused social work. Individuals are perceived to have the inner resources they need to develop and succeed (Saleebey, 1992). They activate success by creating a vision of their future, by working in a supportive environment, and by connecting with specific individuals who help students identify strategies and deal with barriers as they move toward the future. Relatively little emphasis is placed on understanding the causes and sustaining forces of problems or on looking back and studying the past. Much emphasis is placed on here-and-now development in relation to where one is going. …

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