THE CHOICES PROJECT.

Research Areas

California's African American and Latinx high school students have historically experienced persistently low college attendance and graduation rates. The Choices Project research study seeks to address this problem by examining how students are affected during key educational transition points from their earliest years in elementary school on through college and post-graduate study. By identifying and documenting differences in school/campus climates across various institutional contexts, researchers hope to improve access, diversity, and achievement in higher education for African American, Latinx, and other disadvantaged students.

Choices Project researchers study commonalties between African American and Latinx students' educational experiences in California and those in other states. The research also compares the educational experiences of Asian and white students and marginalized students in international contexts. Lessons learned will help develop policy alternatives to improve college opportunities and educational outcomes.

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Lifespan Learning:
A Plan for Educational Growth

(Interactive Map)

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Pre-K to K-12

 

To ensure students' long-term educational and professional success, academic preparation and a pathway to college are essential. For a majority of African American and Latinx students, who historically come from under-resourced communities, it is essential that a college going culture be embedded within students' very first experience of school and continue on throughout the early years. Recognizing that such preparation is the foundation for success later in life, the Choices Project identifies the factors that enable African American and Latinx students to achieve, and also seeks to understand what circumstances impede their success.

K-12 to College

 

As Choices Project researchers, our focus is on determining whether schools have sufficient educational resources, qualified teachers, and adequate facilities to support students during their education. We reach into the communities we serve to talk directly to students, teachers, and administrators. During our inquiry and research process, we learn about schools' successes and challenges, relations with parents and the community, teacher training, development, and experience as well as many other criteria essential to students' success. Because the likelihood of college attendance and graduation is established early on during the K-12 years, we examine and assess a number of critical factors.

Overall K-12 Student Curricula:

  • Courses that enable students to meet University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) qualifications

  • Teacher qualifications

  • The relationship between students and teachers

  • The relationship between schools, parents, and the community

  • Students' own evaluations of schools

  • How schools influence student college choice

We invite K-12 teachers and administrators to participate as co-researchers, and we report back to schools on research findings, as well. The Choices Project includes K-12 schools in several districts in the Los Angeles basin, Bay Area, and Sacramento, California.

The College Experience

 

African American and Latinx students continue to be largely under-represented in higher education in California and the nation as a whole, and their low numbers serve as evidence of a stubborn persistence of racial inequality. For this reason, it is especially important that the critical transition for students between high school and college be examined. The Choices Project studies the relative impact of high school experiences on students' perceptions of college and its opportunities.

Research shows that African American and Latinx students are more likely than other racial or ethnic groups to lack basic information about what college is and represents (See Archives). Very often such students don't have an understanding of what the college-going process entails, such as meeting requirements to complete certain courses, maintaining an acceptable grade point average, familiarity with the application process, as well as how to secure financial aid.

Additionally, information about college is unevenly distributed; those students whose parents attended college or who have college graduates in their family or community may have a familiarity and advantage with the college-going process that many others do not.

Students' perception of college is shaped by a number of different conditions, such as the presence or absence of teacher support, peer influence, and whether students participated in educational enrichment programs, among other factors. It is necessary to increase students' knowledge about and exposure to college, including providing support for taking college preparatory courses during the K-12 years, visits to college campuses, and college recruitment programs.

The Choices Project research design includes interviews and focus groups with all key college stakeholders related to African American and Latinx college attendance, including students themselves, parents, peers, teachers, counselors and administrators. We also outline specific policies and strategies that will help improve and increase student opportunities and resources.

College to Graduate School

 

The Choices Project addresses the problem of the low number of African American and Latinx students who attend college, as well as the environmental and social factors that influence the number of those students who graduate and achieve post-graduate success. 

Given that California seeks lessons and strategies for attracting, retaining, and graduating African American and Latinx students, we pay particular attention to high school graduates who choose to attend Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic Service Institutions (HSI). Since 1976, there's been an overall increase in specifically African American enrollment in higher education. Despite this increase, some states provide additional obstacles to these students by implementing anti-affirmative action policies (From Bakke to Fisher: African American Students in U.S. Higher Education over Forty Years, 2018). The Choices Project works to encourage affirmative action and bolster the college experience for African American and Latinx students.

The Graduate School Experience

 

Affirmative action was implemented as one way to address the problem of under-representation of African American and Latinx students attending college, and to open higher education choices. Yet with affirmative action dismantled in California, the country's most diverse state, the number of African American and Latinx students in higher education remains low. Given this, it is imperative to identify individual, family, group, institutional characteristics, and experiences that are associated with college student persistence and academic achievement.

In the absence of absence of affirmative action, achieving educational equity in K-12 schools becomes more important than ever as the primary means of helping greater numbers of African American and Latinx students to attend college. Ideally, African American and Latinx students as well as other underrepresented students will gain access to college going-cultures in their K-12 schools, supported by adequate resources and well-trained teachers. These features are common in schools for whites and Asians, middle and upper class students and generally students who are successful at entering and graduating from college.

Graduate School to Career

Colleges with well-developed student support programs and a critical mass of African American and Latinx students have higher persistence and achievement rates. The Choices Project asks students to point to critical sources of encouragement and support as well as to identify factors such as financial aid, study abroad, and other resources and programs that improve educational access and success.

 

Finally, as Choices Project researchers we take up questions about African American and Latinx involvement in graduate and professional education. Previous research illustrates patterns of under-representation in advanced degree opportunities for African Americans and Latinx. Awareness of these disparities is the first step towards bringing about change in minority student participation. We aim to understand how to better provide and facilitate access to college and university programs of teaching, medicine, law, and other professions where graduate study is a prerequisite. Such understanding may help to implement strategies for the increased admission, retention, and degree attainment of African American and Latinx students in graduate and professional education environments.

Career and Life Outcomes

 

Researchers study these educational disparities to investigate the factors affecting African American and Latinx students' lives beyond college. The students' chosen career paths, obstacles they may face, earnings, and perspective are all impacted by their access to educational resources in undergraduate and graduate school. Inequitable distribution of educational resources, amongst other causes of disparity, are evaluated and resolved to create equal opportunity for students' professional success.

We invite discussions around the impact of education on life outcomes. For example please see a related project: The Educational Diversity Project