Educational expectations of students and their teachers, degree attainment, and labor market outcomes in midlife

Hung, Yuk Leong
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High schools are places where students in the U.S. start taking diverging pathways to realize their educational and occupational expectations. Teachers provide knowledge and resources that are critical to the success of students. During their interactions with students on the frontline, teachers form expectations and assessments that reflect first-hand information about students. Well-documented in the literature is that educational expectations of students and teachers are positively associated with the degree outcomes of students, which can be consequential to their labor market outcomes. To explain why educational expectations are important for students’ outcomes, existing frameworks focus on mechanisms that take place within an individual, such as motivation and commitment to the future. This dissertation goes beyond individual-level explanation and situates educational expectations in a broader labor market context. Drawing from two cohorts of high school students who graduated at the dawn of dramatic labor market changes, this dissertation aims to examine the change and stability in the extent to which educational expectations are associated with degree attainment and labor market outcomes. In chapter 1, I introduce the central role of educational expectations for degree attainment and labor market outcomes, and how labor market changes may impact the association between the expectations and the outcomes. In chapter 2, I provide an overview of data, sample restrictions, and variables used in the following chapters. In chapter 3, I use a refined classification of occupational expectations to show the importance of occupational upgrading in understanding the benefits of expecting 4-year degrees. In chapter 4, I demonstrate that the association between the educational expectations of teachers and the degree attainment of students remains strong and robust under the dramatic changes in the labor market. In chapter 5, I extend existing research by showing the relationship between teachers’ educational expectations and students’ employment and wages in midlife, and potential gender variations in the relationship. In chapter 6, I present the theoretical and policy implications of the findings in this dissertation, along with potential future directions.