Third grade matters : the significance of social and cultural capital on early college predisposition

Lovelace, Daisy Lundy, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Deutsch, Nancy, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Pusser, Brian, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Burbach, Harold, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Williams, Joanna, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia

College access studies have traditionally linked K-12 schooling to the higher education pipeline by focusing on the experiences of high school students. However, high school is a late point to intervene in a student's educational trajectory. By high school, academic tracking has cumulatively disadvantaged or disqualified many underserved students from attending college upon high school graduation. The process to place students on a college track often begins at a time much earlier than high school-a time when most college access studies and programs begin.

This dissertation explores early understandings of higher education in middle childhood from 23 students in a public elementary school in the mid-Atlantic region. The center of middle childhood, third grade, is considered a crucial stage by state policymakers across the country. Many states begin formally tracking students in third-grade, use third grade literacy rates to project for high school graduation rates, and even rely on third grade test scores to project future prison populations. Due to the policymaking implications and developmental significance of middle childhood, this study investigated whether middle childhood was also a moment where students themselves had formed any understanding of higher education, a critical gateway in the pursuit of the American dream. Third grade students (typically ages 8-9) from varied demographic backgrounds were interviewed to ascertain how they make meaning of college.

The study found that while all students in this sample understand college is schooling beyond high school, college knowledge varied significantly. These differences were closely linked to parental education, social and cultural capital. Students from college educated backgrounds generally articulated sophisticated understandings of college and the college admissions process. They demonstrated high levels of exposure to college, with some students discussing the selection of majors, the difference between public and private school tuitions, dormitory life, and distinctions between institutions based on campus geography and admissions criteria. Students whose parents completed high school or the GED were considered prospective first-generation college students. While these students expressed a clear desire to attend college, they typically displayed thin understandings of and exposure to higher education.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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