Traversing literal and figurative borders in South Texas : Mexican Americans and college choice
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College choice is often described as a three-stage developmental process where students progress through the following phases: predisposition, search and choice (Cabrera & La Nasa, 2000; Hossler & Gallagher, 1987). Existing research, however, suggests this model does not account for all aspects of Latina/os’ college choice experience (Hurtado, Kurotsuchi, Briggs, & Rhee, 1996; Perna, 2000), warranting further investigation. As such, in-depth phenomenological interviews (Seidman, 2006) were conducted with 20 Mexican American high school seniors from the South Texas Border, an area with postsecondary attainment rates below the state and national average (U.S. Census Bureau, 2008f), to gain a deeper understanding of their college choice experience. Guided by an integrated social capital and Chicana feminist conceptual framework, this study sought to uncover how the intersectionality of students’ social identities shaped their college choice process. Specifically, this study explored how students’ identities influenced their college aspirations and their access to college information, support and assistance via their social networks. Findings revealed that students negotiated among several social identities (generational college status, sibling identity, academic identity, class identity, racial/ethnic identity, co-curricular identity, regional identity) which influenced the development of their college aspirations and their ability to access college knowledge and support from their social networks in both positive and negative ways within the four main spaces (cultural/familial space, community space, school space, and cyberspace) they occupied on a daily basis. Students’ narratives further indicated that the individuals or entities in their social networks that were influential and/or considered sources of college knowledge and support included immediate and extended family members, various community members such as neighbors or members of students’ religious congregations, school personnel (counselors, teachers, co-curricular sponsors), higher education representatives and institutions, peers, and various college oriented websites found on the Internet. Students also noted, however, various challenges in navigating their college choice process that centered around: 1) parents’ limited college knowledge, 2) attending a local/regional institution or one outside the region, 3) combating negative educational stereotypes of Mexican Americans in general and those in the South Texas Border in particular, and 4) accessing adequate college information and assistance at school.