More Than Money: Higher Education Decisions Of Low-income And Minority Students
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A gap persists in K-12 academic achievement, high school persistence, college attendance, and educational attainment by income level and race/ethnicity. Issues of race and ethnicity in education are often intertwined with those of economic status because African Americans and Latinos are more likely to live in poverty and have lower median household incomes than are Whites in US. Much of the literature regarding the achievement gap focuses on barriers faced by low-income and minority students; two barriers in particular are low student motivation and inadequate academic preparation. In addition to these individual level barriers, schools as institutions perpetuate and reward the possession of cultural capital, which low-income minority students often lack, thereby alienating low-income minority students from the learning process. To explore the college attendance decisions of low-income minority students, a case study was conducted of a not-for-profit organization committed to improving college readiness and increasing college access for underserved populations. The current study focused on the college attendance decisions, including the decision of whether to attend college, made by low-income African American and latino students when they had successfully completed high school, and were guaranteed scholarships to pay for college tuition. The current study analyzed the factors that influenced their higher education decisions, including the perceived barriers that limited their higher education choices and college access. The literature consistently asserts that a lack of money threatens the academic pursuits of low-income minority students. Levine and Levine (1995), for example, found that insufficient funding for tuition, a shift in federal aid from grants to loans, rising tuition costs, and higher college entrance standards were barriers to educational attainment for low-income minority students. However, the current study found that decisions regarding college attendance were shaped as much by other variables (e.g. student motivation; academic preparation; achievement ideology, levels of capital), in addition to tuition expenses and funding sources. The findings of this study suggest that although money is important, it is not sufficient to remedy inequities in college access. It is not just a lack of money that negatively affects college attendance for low-income, minority students. Findings indicate that social and cultural preparation for college were more important than financial preparation in predicting college attendance for low-income minority students. Respondents who felt academically, socially, and culturally prepared to attend and graduate college were more likely to attend college, and to attend four-year colleges and universities, compared to those who did not feel prepared. Because of the pervasive poverty and denied access to quality academic and other resources, social and cultural preparation were found to be more important than money in promoting college access for low-income minority students. More than money is necessary to parity college access for low-income minority students.