Higher Education and the Latina Student: Examining the College Choice Process among Latina Students attending Four-Year Baccalaureate Granting Higher Education Institutions

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2010-12

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University and college administrators are faced with numerous challenges related to providing a quality educational experience for students. Although programs, policies and procedures vary, many educational issues are often related to each other, influencing outcomes and decisions made on a day-to-day basis by academic professionals. One such issue with long-reaching effects is the diversity of campus student populations. Some research has suggested that finding methods to increase diversity on campus can be related to a more positive and stronger academic experience overall for students; and changes in access to education over the past century have increased the potential number of students on American campus‟ from distinct and diverse backgrounds. College choice can be an extremely involved, lengthy and at times difficult process. Achieving an understanding of how prospective high school graduates arrive at their ultimate decision, in an effort to alleviate some if not all of difficulty in the process, is something that researchers and educational professionals continue to work toward. While many ethnic groups may be identified by the term minority, this research seeks to focus on Latinas. Latinas, the female portion of the population denoted as Latinos, have seen unprecedented population growth, specifically in the Southern regions of the United States. The growth of this population, coupled with a steady increase in Latinos pursuing higher education could affect the ability of institutions of higher education to increase campus diversity. The goal of this research is to investigate the influence of social identity on the college choice process and the subsequent decision to enroll in an institution of higher education from a distinctly humanistic context. Therefore, a qualitative design was chosen for this research. Research participants were chosen by using purposeful sampling. The criteria for selecting respondents for this study were as follows: (1) participants must be currently enrolled in one of the two designated four-year baccalaureate granting institutions (2) participants must not have attended a community college after high school graduation and before enrolling in one of the two four-year baccalaureate granting institutions (3) participants will be a member of the ethnic group denoted by the term Latino (4) participants must be of the female gender (5) participants will be from 18 to 24 years of age. Study participants were enrolled in institutions who awarded a traditional four-year baccalaureate degree, and were within relative proximity to a single community college. Data collection included structured interviews with study participants, follow-up interviews to validate collected data, and focus groups conducted with study participants. It was the purpose of this study to examine the effect of social identity and culture as well as institutional factors on the college choice process and the resulting decision to attend a baccalaureate granting institution upon completion of high school by Latina students age 18 – 24. Determining how these factors affect the college choice process is necessary to improve both recruitment and retention for Latinas in four-year baccalaureate granting institutions.

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