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College Transitions & Persistence

Improving High School College Counseling

In Phi Delta Kappan, IPR education researcher James Rosenbaum and his co-authors review current research evaluating how high school counselors work and understand their role, focusing on the counselors’ beliefs around college access, fit, and matching with a college. The authors examine surveys of counselors and graduation data from the National Center for Education Statistics, as well as conducting two studies that resulted in interviews with 52 counselors and advisers. Counselors, they conclude, were reluctant to give individualized advice because they did not believe they were equipped to provide students advice about what constitutes a good college match. Most counselors saw themselves as sources of information about the college application process, sharing that their primary concern was ensuring students submit college applications. The researchers note the lack of individualized advice could have negative implications for first-generation college students, who may enroll in institutions below their academic ability—if they enroll at all. To provide more individualized advising, the researchers propose adding more counselors to combat understaffing, which many counselors identified as limiting their capacity to offer more individualized guidance. Rosenbaum and his co-authors also recommend training to help counselors recognize and avoid biases that could have an impact on how they advise students. This research shows how high school policies can enable counselors to give better advice, especially to first-generation students.

Concerns About Downward Mobility Among Students
of Color 

What impact do concerns about downward socioeconomic mobility have on college students’ academic experiences? IPR social psychologist Mesmin Destin, graduate research assistant Josiah Rosario, and their colleagues conduct two studies addressing this question in Social Psychology of Education. In their first study, the researchers found that when students had stronger concerns about the possibility of falling down the socioeconomic hierarchy during their lives, they also expressed more academic avoidance goals, which means that they were more focused on avoiding negative goals like bad grades than achieving positive goals like earning honors. This was especially true for students of color. In an experiment, the second study randomly assigned students to momentarily focus on the possibility of downward mobility, upward mobility, or a control condition. Building on the findings from the first study, students of color who were led to focus on downward mobility became more focused on avoidance goals than other students in the study. Prior research shows that over time, this type of sustained focus on avoiding mistakes rather than learning and improving can lead to lower effort, achievement, and well-being. The researchers conclude that broader societal risks of downward mobility for students of color can contribute to challenges that they face in pursuing their goals.

The Power of Balanced Messaging to Support Marginalized Students

A study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology finds that messages about the positive power of a student’s background can support the achievement and wellbeing of marginalized high school or college students. The finding by IPR social psychologist Mesmin Destin holds important implications for educational policies and practices. Students who are Black, Latinx, or from lower socioeconomic (SES) or other marginalized backgrounds constantly hear negative messages about their problems and challenges. Such messages can lead them to believe that their backgrounds are only barriers and never strengths. One significant influence on students is their instructors. Students systematically pick up messages from faculty, intentional or not, that “aren’t necessarily conveying a belief that their group that is seen as marginalized in society actually is a source of some unique strengths,” Destin said. Other work in Destin’s lab demonstrates that high school and college students can get “big messages” from society and the political world that affect students’ sense of belonging in their academic communities.

Enrollment Changes at Community Colleges During the Pandemic

During typical recessions, post-secondary institutions experience an increase in enrollment as young adults try to gain skills to be more competitive in the labor market. In a working paper, IPR economist Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach and Sarah Turner, of the University of Virginia, study how supply disruptions led to a drop in community college enrollment during the pandemic-induced recession, despite high unemployment rates. The researchers examine community college administrative records in fall 2020 representing about half of national community college enrollment. The researchers focused on assembly, repair, and maintenance (ARM) courses that require hands-on training, which were particularly disrupted during COVID because the training was harder to move online. Overall, they find that between 2019 and 2020, enrollment at community colleges dropped by 9.5%, mostly because fewer men enrolled. Furthermore, community colleges that typically enroll a higher share of students in ARM programs saw a larger drop in enrollment compared to other schools. The researchers suggest that because fewer workers have been trained in ARM skills, the flow of workers to local markets may be disrupted. This disruption could also encourage hands-on programs to adopt a hybrid model of teaching in the future using simulation technologies and learning tools to save money and allow for self-paced learning. Schanzenbach is the Margaret Walker Alexander Professor of Human Development and Social Policy.