Academic journal article Community College Review

The Effects of Social and Cultural Capital on Student Persistence: Are Community Colleges More Meritocratic?

Academic journal article Community College Review

The Effects of Social and Cultural Capital on Student Persistence: Are Community Colleges More Meritocratic?

Article excerpt

This study examines the influences of social and cultural capital on persistence from 1st to 2nd year and how these effects differ between community colleges and 4-year institutions. Results show that social and cultural capital have a positive association with student persistence overall but matter less when students begin at a community college.

Keywords: student retention; achievement; student services; social and cultural capital


Because all levels of postsecondary education increase rates of return on student investments and increase future earnings (Kane & Rouse, 1999; Leslie & Brinkman, 1988; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005; Paulsen, 1998), college attendance is often promoted as something that should be available to nearly everyone. In this context, the role of community colleges has expanded both as a place to obtain an associate's degree and as an affordable beginning, via transfer, to a 4-year degree. With explicit policies such as open admissions, community colleges are often touted as vehicles of democratic equality--a possible means by which students can overcome their socioeconomic origins and move up the social ladder, emphasizing the social mobility purpose of education (Labaree, 1997). However, postsecondary education overall has also been characterized as one of the forces in society that may serve to reproduce existing hierarchies (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977; Collins, 1979; Lucas, 2001; Raftery & Hout, 1993), and community colleges may be a part of that process (Dougherty, 2003). Studying the influences of stratification characteristics (e.g., social class) on student educational outcomes may help to confirm or deny such claims.

A report commissioned for the 2006 National Symposium on Postsecondary Student Success in Washington, D.C., created a theoretical model of student success (Perna & Thomas, 2006). Within this model, 10 key indicators were identified, across four student transitions. One of these indicators of success was student persistence. Thus, persistence is one outcome that can be studied to examine the equitable and meritocratic goals of postsecondary education in general and community colleges in particular. If college students with privileged backgrounds were more likely to persist than those who have less access to such advantages, then social reproduction rather than meritocratic ideals of postsecondary education would be supported. If community colleges were more egalitarian in their practices in comparison to 4-year institutions, then they would see more equitable outcomes based on such class distinctions. Social and cultural capital constructs may be effective means of exploring such issues of social class.

This study examines the role of social and cultural capital in persistence from 1st to 2nd year by focusing on community colleges compared to 4-year institutions. In doing so, this study establishes a greater understanding of the ways that social class may affect student persistence and illuminates possible ways that persistence-decision processes may play a role in either overcoming social barriers or reinforcing them. Such barriers may be associated with low family income or wealth, low parental education, or the poor, ill-resourced schools that students from low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds often attend, all of which may result in less access to the financial, social, cultural, and academic resources that aid in the college-going process. In addition, results demonstrate how processes that affect systemwide persistence in postsecondary education may differ between students who begin at 2- and 4-year institutions.

Literature Review

Community Colleges

Community colleges are a distinct institutional type in the U.S. postsecondary education system and have become an integral part of the educational and economic welfare of the country. Community colleges are most often looked at in this way from a functional perspective, emphasizing the needs that the community college fills for college opportunity and for labor market training (Kane & Rouse, 1999). …

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