A Study of Underlying Variables Affecting Aspirations of Rural Adolescents

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INTRODUCTION

Student aspirations cannot be simply defined as individual dreams or ambitions (Quaglia, 1989). They are derived from a combination of personal and familial educational goals, vocational endeavors, and self-concept as it relates to what they believe are important elements to success in their choice of lifestyle. Aspirations require the investment of time, energy, and resources (Sherwood, 1989).

Research concerning the educational, vocational, and quality of life aspirations of rural youth has received increased attention in the last several years. Cobb, McIntire, and Pratt (1989) in an analysis of data gathered in the longitudinal survey, High School and Beyond, reported that in comparison to urban young people, the rural young felt that their parents were much more supportive of their taking full-time jobs, attending trade schools, or entering the military rather than attending college. Lower aspirations for making a lot of money, and higher aspirations for making an adequate income, having a secure job, and maintaining friendships were more typical of rural than urban youth. At least three factors have been consistently associated with the "lower" aspirations of rural youth. They are: the relationship of socioeconomic status and educational outcomes (Marion, Mirochnick, McCaul, & McIntire, 1991); the high poverty rate in rural America; and the education level of parents, which is likely to be lower in rural areas (Pollard & O'Hare, 1990). A fourth factor, less acquaintance with occupations and therefore lower occupational aspirations, has also been identified (Haller & Virkler, 1992). None of these factors is easily changed by interventions in schools or with families.

This paper examines aspirations in a different light by analyzing variables which can be directly influenced by the student, family, and/or school personnel. Aspirations are comprised of two major components - inspiration and ambitions. Ambitions represent an individual's ability to look ahead and invest in the future. Inspiration can be described as the individual's ability to invest the required time, energy, and effort. Variables such as how and why students spend their time illustrate the dynamics of these two components. This research specifically studied rural students in order to better understand aspirations.

RATIONALE, SAMPLE, AND METHOD

Our work (Quaglia, Townsend, and McIntire, 1991) and the Aspirations Survey (1992) were greatly influenced by Csikszentmihayli and Larson's (1984) seminal study, Being Adolescent. They discuss how patterns of thought and choices that help students know who they are develop during adolescence.

"Where adolescents spend their time, what they do with it, and whom they spend it with demarks a system of options, constraints, and potentialities that bear on adolescent life, shaping both the immediate reality and the future growth" Csikszentmihalyi, 1984 p. 44). The major contexts of most adolescents' lives are family, school, and friends. Their time is apportioned among different activities which may be thought of as personal and social, and potentially productive or nonproductive.

In a recent study of talented teenagers, Csikszentmihalyi and Rathunde (in progress) remind us that every teenager has to make choices between immediate gratification and long-term development, about being alone, and being with others. Each person's potential must be cultivated - which takes time and the investment of psychic energy. Thus, "patterns of time use are important because time is limited, and the choices we make determine what our lives will consist of. These choices are especially crucial in adolescence, when the pattern for the future course of one's life is being set" (1993, p. 85).

This report uses the survey which allows for systematic analysis of relationships between variables that affect student aspirations. The survey is based on students' perceptions of self and their environments. …

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