Educational aspirations in an Urban Community College: differences between immigrant and native student groups

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Date: Jan. 2010
From: Community College Review(Vol. 37, Issue 3)
Publisher: Sage Publications, Inc.
Document Type: Article
Length: 13,315 words

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This study explored the educational aspirations of immigrant and native students in an urban community college. Using Burton Clark's cooling-out theory as a framework, the study looked at choices students make when applying to college and the extent to which students later change their aspirations. Immigrant students who were educated in United States high schools were more likely than other student groups to aspire to a 4-year degree and seek admission to a senior college rather than a community college. Logistic regression analysis revealed that most students did not change their majors over six semesters, although among those who did, students were more likely to be cooled out (i.e., they lowered their aspirations as indicated by a change from a transfer to a terminal program) than to shift from a terminal program to a transfer program.


student aspirations, cooling-out theory, immigrants, college choice


Throughout its history, the United States has attracted large numbers of immigrants. Presently, more than 30 million people, or almost 15% of the United States residents, are foreign born, and new immigrants continue to arrive at a rate of 1 million or more per year (Malone, Baluja, Costanzo, & Davis, 2003; The Urban Institute, 2006). Although immigrants come to these shores for many reasons, clearly the United States holds out the dream that all things are possible and that upward mobility is limited only by marketable skills and hard work. Often the route to upward mobility and economic success is through education. The economic value of an education is supported by the numbers: Average earnings increase at every educational level from the completion of some high school through the completion of a professional degree (U.S. Census Bureau, 2005b). Immigrants pursuing the "American dream" for themselves and their children seem to quickly understand the importance of education and are enrolled in higher education to a greater extent than their native-born counterparts (Vernez & Abrahamse, 1996).

For many immigrants and their children, the first exposure to higher education will be in a community college. Using data from the High School and Beyond data set for 1980, Gray and Vernez (1996) found that immigrants were 20% more likely than natives to begin their higher education at a community college. An analysis of 1992 data from the National Educational Longitudinal Study (NELS) showed that over a decade later, immigrant students were more likely than either first- or second-generation students (i.e., native born to immigrant parents or native born to native-born parents, respectively) to enroll in a 2-year college program (Hagy & Staniec, 2002). This author is unaware of more current data (as of this writing) on immigrants in higher education generally or, more specifically, in community colleges. But given that 35% of all undergraduates, more than 6 million students, attended a community college in the 2006-2007 school year, that Hispanics attend the community college in greater proportion than other ethnic groups (Provasnik & Planty, 2008), and that Hispanics comprise the largest proportion of new immigrants (U.S. Census Bureau, 2005a),...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A225304946