Education :: Road to college filled with distinctive barriers for Mexican-Americans

Mexican-American high-schoolers and their white peers aspire equally to go on to college to chase their dreams, but the minority students see many more hurdles in their paths, say researchers at the University of Oregon.

The findings ? when added to previous research in the field of social-cognitive career theory that looks at the relationship among interests, aspirations and outcomes ? raise an important question, said lead author Ellen Hawley McWhirter, a professor of counseling psychology in the UO College of Education. ?What are we going to do as a society to dismantle those barriers so that they can achieve their goals and make the contributions they want to give to our communities??

The new study, published in the February issue of the quarterly Journal of Career Assessment, focused intently on 28 potential barriers to higher education as perceived through the minds of 436 Mexican-American and white students in the Southwest and Midwest. McWhirter began studying such barriers in 1991 while she was a doctoral student in counseling psychology in Arizona. This time, McWhirter and colleagues focused on subgroups of the previously identified barriers in an effort to find particular trouble spots. They also considered the possible role of parent education and the students? perceptions of their own abilities to overcome the roadblocks they anticipated.

?The most striking findings were the degree to which the Mexican-Americans not only anticipated that they were more likely to encounter barriers, but that these would be more difficult to overcome,? McWhirter said.

The barriers included internal factors (lack of confidence and fear of not fitting in), relational barriers (pressure or lack of support from friends or teachers), preparation and motivation to pursue college, and the prospect of having to leave behind their friends and family.

A driving force for McWhirter?s research can be found in figures available from the National Center for Education Statistics. Only 10 percent of Latinos in the United States receive a college degree, even though more of them are attending college than ever before, compared to 18 percent of blacks and 34 percent of whites. College graduates earn an average 77 percent more than high school graduates, but fewer Latinos attain that pay level.

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