Since the 1970s, African Americans have demonstrated gains in educational outcomes. According to T. M. Smith (1997), in 1972, only 32% of African Americans planned to attend a 4-year college immediately after high school graduation, whereas in 1992, 52% planned to go directly into a 4-year college. Across this same period, the percentage of African Americans who planned to enter academic programs at 2-year colleges also increased. Across the 1980s and 1990s, there was an increase in the number of bachelor's degrees awarded to African Americans, with the largest increase for African American women.
Despite these positive increases, African Americans and Hispanics are less likely than White Americans and Asian Americans to enroll in college immediately after high school (T. M. Smith, 1997). According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2000), the percentage of African Americans in their 20s and 30s who have bachelor's degrees is much smaller than the percentage for all racial and ethnic groups taken together. This discrepancy has received attention from political leaders in the United States, and one of the current national education goals is to increase the participation of African Americans in higher education (National Education Goals Panel, 1999). In addition to being a social and political issue, this is an economic issue. Academic degrees are becoming increasingly important for the economic success of young people. That is, the earnings gap between those who have 4 or more years of college and those who do not has steadily widened across the last three decades (Snyder & Shafer, 1996). Because education may be the main means of social mobility for individuals from minority groups (Crowley & Shapiro, 1982), researchers need to devote attention to the postsecondary educational development of African Americans.
The purpose of this study was to examine the longitudinal direct and indirect effects of background variables, family variables, and high school behavioral variables on the postsecondary educational expectations of African Americans. Background and family variables were assessed when students were 8th graders; behavioral variables were assessed when students were in the 12th grade; and educational expectations were assessed 2 years after high school. My intention was to identify patterns of influences on African Americans' long-term educational development, thereby revealing areas for support and intervention by parents, counselors, educators, and other social service personnel. The following research question was posed: What are the direct and indirect effects of socioeconomic status (SES), early mathematics and reading performance, parents' expectations and involvement, and high school behavior on the educational expectations of African American women and men?
The educational and occupational goals of young people have been quantified by various means. The most common forms of career goals studied in the research literature are aspirations and expectations. Conceptually, expectations are more concrete than aspirations. Aspiration represents a more abstract, ideological goal or hope, whereas expectation represents a more concrete or realistic plan (T. E. Smith, 1989). According to Hanson (1994), a student may have the aspiration to earn a college degree, yet the student may not expect to earn that degree. Researchers have not consistently differentiated aspirations and expectations. For example, Marjoribanks (1991) used the term aspirations, but assessed students' expectations.
It has been noted that African Americans may have unrealistic educational expectations and aspirations (Hafner, Ingels, Schneider, & Stevenson, 1990; Kao & Tienda, 1998; Mickelson, 1990). However, this suspicion of unrealistic educational goals more often concerns students' goals that are assessed early in their educational careers (e. …