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PATHWAYS to Postsecondary Success publishes working papers and policy briefs on a range of issues that impact the attainment of higher education credentials for low-income youth. These publications are aimed to help institutions better serve low-income youth and inform the policy community on the relationship between poverty and educational opportunities.




Executive Summary CoverOctober 2013

Pathways to Postsecondary Success: Maximizing Opportunities for Youth in Poverty
Daniel Solórzano, Amanda Datnow, Vicki Park, and Tara Watford

Executive Summary

Full Report

The final report of the five-year PATHWAYS project provides culminating findings from a mixed-methods set of studies that include national and state analyses of opportunities and obstacles in postsecondary education and discussions with 300 low-income young adults preparing for or pursuing college in southern California.  The authors call for a richer, more comprehensive and humane understanding of the lives of low-income youth. With this viewpoint in mind, the report  highlights five factors that matter when thinking about and promoting success for low-income college students. These factors – student voices, diversity, assets, connection between K-12 and high education sectors, and institutional supports and conditions – are key for all student success initiatives.  Recognizing the importance of these factors matter for small-scale improvements, such as the devel­opment of a student support center at a local com­munity college, as well as for large-scale reform, such as national financial aid policies.


Basic Skills Policy Report CoverOctober 2013

Inside the Basic Skills Classroom: Student Experiences in Developmental Education
Maria C. Malagon, Lluliana Alonso, Robin Nichole Johnson-Ahorlu, and Yen Ling Shek

Project: Los Angeles Case Study

Inside the Basic Skills Classroom reveals how low-income students experience developmental education, from the placement process to course completion. Their perspectives lead to important recommendations for policy and practice. 



MLSES Policy Brief CoverSeptember 2013

College Can Be Complicated:  Low-Income Single Mothers' Experiences in Postsecondary Education
Christine Cerven, Vicki Park, Jennifer Nations, and Kelly Nielsen

Project: Riverside Case Study
This report sheds light on the range of responsibilities that low-income single mothers must balance in order to persist in community colleges, and describes what helps and hinders their efforts to do so.




Dev Ed Policy Brief CoverSeptember 2013

Latina/o Community College Students: Understanding the Barriers of Developmental Education
Daniel G. Solórzano, Nancy Acevedo-Gil, and Ryan E. Santos

Project: Los Angeles Case Study
This report highlights the trajectories of Latina/o students who test into developmental coursework and brings attention to the stumbling blocks created by these courses. Based on the findings, the authors offer suggestions for improving Latinas/os’ developmental education completion rates. 




Labor Markets CoverSeptember 2013

Labor Market Outcomes and the Postsecondary Educational Attainment of Low-Income Youth
Mariam Ashtiani, Edelina Burciaga, and Cynthia Feliciano

Project: National Analysis
This report draws on data from a national longitudinal study to reveal the connections between low-income young adults’ degree status and their labor market outcomes. The findings point to the value of a bachelor’s degree in the marketplace and to the complex variations in outcomes by race,  gender, and socioeconomic background. 





July 2013

The Impact of Punitive High School Discipline Policies on the Postsecondary Trajectories of Young Men
Veronica Terriquez, Robert Chlala, and Jeff Sacha

ProjectCalifornia Young Adult Survey
This report draws attention to the lasting effects of expulsion and suspension on college pathways for young men. It offers recommendations that aim to improve discipline policies and contribute to student achievement.





July 2013

Socioeconomic Inequalities in the Postsecondary Enrollment, Employment, and Civic Engagement of California's Youth 
Veronica Terriquez and Sandra Florian

ProjectCalifornia Young Adult Survey
This policy report draws attention to the persistent effects of family income background and parental educational attainment on the opportunities and experiences of young people as they transition into adulthood. In a best case scenario, young adults who are transitioning out of high school face a choice among various postsecondary education and employment options. At the same time, they may have new opportunities to engage with and be a positive influence on their communities. But today's youth are coming of age at a time of significant socioeconomic inequality that may shape their ability to access postsecondary education, obtain meaningful employment and contribute to the world around them. This may in turn shape their current and future outcomes and well-being.



HS Conditions-Oseguera coverJuly 2013

Importance of High School Conditions for College Access
Leticia Oseguera

Project: National Analysis
This research brief explores critical factors in preparing students for college. In this brief, Oseguera builds on a widely-used framework to set the stage for an empirical analysis of how school culture interacts with individual experiences to form students' postsecondary pathways. Students from low-income backgrounds are less likely than their peers to enroll in and complete college. Often, reform efforts designed to address this problem focus on individual factors such as academic performance or parental education level. But an over-emphasis on student characteristics at the expense of attention to school culture and climate undermines a more complete understanding of student achievement. By exploring high school institutional factors—including academic curriculum, teacher qualifications, and school commitment to college access—we can explain the variation in the postsecondary pathways of students from low-income backgrounds more fully than if we focus only on family or “cultural” factors. If we overlook what is going on within schools, we may limit the potential impact of current policy initiatives on the academic success of low-income students.




July 2013

California's College Stopouts:
The Significance of Financial Barriers to Continuous School Enrollment

Veronica Terriquez, Oded Gurantz, and Ana Gomez

Project: California Young Adult Survey
California's College Stopouts calls attention to the negative effects of discontinuous college enrollment and describes how financial factors play a significant role in stopout patterns, especially for students from lower-income backgrounds.




May 2013

Entering Adulthood in Hard Times
A Comparative Report on the Educational and Economic Status of 18- to 26-Year-Olds in California

John Rogers and Rhoda Freelon

Project: Indicators
Young Americans have been hit particularly hard by the economic downturn caused by the Great Recession that began in 2008. As new entrants into the labor market, they have faced the challenge of being the last hired and, hence, the first fired. This policy report highlights how educational and economic challenges play out differently across particular populations of young adults, drawing specific attention to the similarities and differences between young adults in California and other large states. 




April 2013

'I Need More Information'
How College Advising is Still Absent from College Preparation in High Schools

Makeba Jones

Project: San Diego Case Study
For low-income youth, the transition from high school to college is a pivotal juncture; clearing the college-going hurdle immediately, without delay, increases the likelihood that they will earn four-year degrees. One of the most important components of preparation for a smooth transition is college advising. High school counselors are arguably as important as teachers in preparing low-income high school students for college. Nationwide, high school counseling is fragmented. Low-income students are especially vulnerable to institutional gaps in college advising because they often have limited personal ties to family, friends, or neighbors with four-year degrees who can offer informed college guidance. This policy report draws on the voices and experiences of students and counselors in San Diego public high schools to shed light on weaknesses in college counseling and to offer recommendations for how high school advising programs can be improved.



financialaid-coverApril 2013

Increasing Federal Financial Aid Access for California Community College Students
Susan Yonezawa

Project: San Diego Case Study
An estimated 1.7 million U.S. undergraduates are eligible for federal financial aid but fail to complete the FAFSA. Over 1.1 million of these students attend community colleges. A growing body of research suggests that when low-income students receive federal grants early in their college-going trajectories, they stop our or drop out less often than if they receive no aid or if they take out loans. California could capitalize on federal funds both to educate its 18- to 24-year-old population and to improve California's economy. Increasing Federal Financial Aid Access for California Community College Students draws on the voices and experiences of students from the San Diego area to reveal how low-income students understand and navigate the financial aid system.



WhatMatterPR-coverFebruary 2013

What Matters for Community College Success?
Assumptions and Realities Concerning Student Supports for Low-Income Women

Vicki Park, Christine Cerven, Jennifer Nations, Kelly Nielsen

Project: Riverside Case Study
This policy report focuses on the experiences of low-income women in community colleges to highlight the institutional conditions and supports that help students to persist to degree or transfer. Compared to four-year institutions, community colleges serve greater numbers of low-income people and students of color. California, in particular, has the largest community college system in the United States, enrolling nearly one quarter of the nation's community college students. Keeping with national efforts to improve student success, Gov. Brown recently signed legislation intended to improve completion rates by requiring community colleges to develop student success and support programs. This report focuses on the experiences of one large segment of the CC population—low-income women.




September 2012

Mentorship and the Postsecondary Educational Attainment of Low-Income Youth
Mariam Ashtiani and Cynthia Feliciano

Project: National Analysis
Mentors, who can serve as role models or spark a sense of possibility for the future, offer one important avenue for low-income youth to gain access to important information and tools necessary for academic success. This brief underscores the important role that mentors can play in helping these students enroll in and complete college, and reveals that not all types of mentorship are equally effective for all students.




September 2012

Unequal Experiences and Outcomes for Black and Latino Males in California's Public Education System
John Rogers and Rhoda Freelon

Project: Indicators
Numerous studies have documented that black males enrolled in school often lag behind their peers academically, have less access to rigorous coursework, experience racial bias from school personnel because of lower expectations for boys of color, and are more likely to drop out. Although it would be reasonable to expect that Latino males face similar challenges, there are few comparable studies that reveal their experiences. Given the new demographic realities facing the nation—and facing California in particular—it is important to gain a better understanding of how both groups fare in the state’s public K–12 and postsecondary education system. This brief highlights the experiences of young men of color as they travel through K–12 schools and, in some cases, into higher education. It draws attention to the various factors that can impede this journey and to some of the ways that schools can facilitate student success.



TerriquezRB-profile coverJuly 2012

Educational and Employment Profile of California Youth
Veronica Terriquez

Project: California Young Adult Survey
This brief highlights the postsecondary educational and employment experiences of the state's 18- to 26-year-olds. Focusing on young people who are out of high school provides us with insights into their future trajectories, and can thus inform the state's education, economic and social policies. The figures presented in this brief draw on data from the 2009 and 2010 American Community Survey (ACS), and the research presented here examines the experiences of young adults from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds. It also separates college-age youth (18-22) from early career youth (23-26) because they are likely to show distinct patterns in their postsecondary enrollment and labor market participation.



Aspiring-Americans-coverJune 2012

Aspiring Americans:
Undocumented Youth Leaders in California

Veronica Terriquez and Caitlin Patler

Project: California Young Adult Survey
There are approximately 5 million undocumented children and young adults residing in the United States, with 24% (or 1.1 million) living in California alone. Many of these young people are actively seeking access to higher education and a pathway to citizenship so they can fully utilize their talents and credentials to contribute to U.S. society. This research brief highlights the experiences of undocumented young adult leaders who belong to immigrant youth organizations in California. We demonstrate that these are accomplished individuals who are actively involved in their communities. We also show that these young people disproportionately experience economic hardship and challenges to their personal well-being. The brief concludes by recommending policies that can further the economic and social contributions of undocumented youth leaders and others like them.



ihelp PR coverMay 2012

Measuring Institutional Conditions that Support Student Success in the California Community Colleges
Caroline West, Nancy Shulock, and Colleen Moore

Project: Indicators
This policy report focuses attention toward institutional readiness, specifically on California’s community colleges, where nearly one quarter of the nation’s community college students are enrolled. With our attention set on the institutional level, we draw from the literature and from ongoing research to identify a set of indicators of the campus-level conditions that support student success. And with an eye toward operationalization, we also describe how community colleges might demonstrate that these conditions are in place on their campuses.



Oseguera WP coverMay 2012

Postsecondary Educational Pathways of Low- and Middle/High-Income Youth:
Using the Education Longitudinal Study (ELS) to Examine Tenth Graders' Transitions from High School

Leticia Oseguera

Project: National Analysis
This work examines the four-year trajectories of a national cohort of tenth graders by socioeconomic status to better understand pathways of educational movement. Drawing on the Education Longitudinal Study, we identify large differences in post high school transitions, conditional upon the type of educational status one secures during high school, across low-income and middle/high-income samples. Only when we take into account college readiness at high school graduation do we see similar proportions of low-income and middle/high-income students make the transition to college immediately after high school graduation. As the population of low socioeconomic status students in the U.S. continues to expand and the importance of obtaining a four-year higher education degree increases, understanding students’ post-high school behavior in light of their secondary education outcomes can guide policy to identify and close the gap in the pipeline to college access.



Feliciano-Ashtiani WP coverMay 2012

Postsecondary Educational Pathways of Low-Income Youth:
An Analysis of Add Health Data

Cynthia Feliciano and Mariam Ashtiani

Project: National Analysis
This study used data from a recent longitudinal survey conducted over a 14-year period to compare the educational pathways of young adults from low-income backgrounds to their middle/high-income counterparts. Specifically, the study examined whether the effect of low-income status in adolescence on postsecondary pathways is better explained by early academic indicators and educational ambitions or higher education enrollment patterns and out-of-school responsibilities. The analysis showed that low-income youth are disadvantages in terms of entry into higher education as well as degree attainment. Roughly half of young adults from low-income families do not complete any postsecondary schooling, and those who do enroll are less likely to earn bachelor's degrees, partly due to lower educational ambitions and lower academic achievement in adolescence. Post-high school experiences are most decisive, however:  Nontraditional patterns of enrollment in two-year colleges, shaped by out-of-school responsibilities such as full-time labor force participation and family obligations, are a key mechanism through which low-income status in adolescence leads to lower likelihood of degree completion in young adulthood.


Park-Watford RB coverMarch 2012

Peer-Reviewed Research on Low-Income Students in Postsecondary Education:
Trends and Future Directions

Vicki Park and Tara Watford

Questions of how colleges and universities can better support low-income youth are increasingly at the forefront of research and educational reform agendas. Researchers need to assess not only what is known about low-income college students but also where the information gaps lie. Currently, researchers know that low-income students tend to enter and complete college in much smaller numbers than their middle- and high-income peers and earn far fewer postsecondary degrees by the age of 26. Low-income students are also more likely to attend under-resourced, overburdened community colleges. But apart from these types of descriptive statistics, what research is being conducted on low-income college students and how does the higher education field prioritize this research? This brief examines several broad research trends that occur in five key peer-reviewed higher education journals over a 20-year period (1989–2008), in particular: How many articles were published that examine low-income youth in the context of postsecondary education? Were the data collected and analyzed via quantitative, qualitative or mixed-methods approaches? In what types of colleges and universities have low-income youth predominantly been studied?


Oseguera RB coverJanuary 2012

High School Coursework and Postsecondary Education Trajectories:
Disparities between Youth Who Grow Up In and Out of Poverty

Leticia Oseguera

Project: National Analysis
One of the most direct ways schools can positively affect students’ college going trajectories is to ensure access to a rigorous college preparatory curriculum. This brief draws on a study of a national cohort of students to explore how socioeconomic status and high school coursework intersect to influence educational pathways. A deeper understanding of how academic course-taking in high school affects post-secondary education outcomes can help guide policy aimed at identifying and closing gaps in the college access pipeline. In particular, a more nuanced portrait of how these factors come into play for students in poverty and for their more affluent counterparts will allow for informed policy and research recommendations that can improve educational outcomes for all students.


Ashtiani-Feliciano RB coverJanuary 2012

Low-Income Young Adults Continue to Face Barriers to College Entry and Degree Completion
Mariam Ashtiani and Cynthia Feliciano

Project: National Analysis
All students deserve access to a full range of postsecondary options, and the current economic climate and competitive job market have made obtaining a four-year degree more important than ever. But there are persistent inequities when we look at the college attendance and completion rates of students across socioeconomic groups. We know that growing up in poverty is associated with conditions and obstacles that can affect later educational attainment—lowered expecations, limited access to rigorous high school curricula, negative relationships with school personnel, limited access to resources and more. As a result, fewer students who grow up in poverty graduate from four-year colleges. This research brief draws on a longitudinal study of American youth to explore the relative impact of these two separate but highly interrelated issues—access and attainment—on students from different socioeconomic backgrounds.


JESPAR iconJanuary - June 2010

Pathways to Postsecondary Education and Beyond: Maximizing Opportunities for Youth in Poverty
Amanda Datnow, Daniel G. Solorzano, Tara Watford and Vicki Park


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