Social Capital of Non Traditional Students

Topics: Sociology, Social capital, Education Pages: 32 (9769 words) Published: July 5, 2013
Birds of a Feather:
Social capital of non-traditional students

The number of undergraduates enrolled in higher education in the United States has risen to new heights (NCES, 2012). Between 1999 and 2009 alone, US college matriculation increased by 38 percent, three times the rate of the preceding decade (Rosenbaum, Deil-Amen, & Person, 2006). This stunning growth is driven in large part by record enrollments of “nontraditional” students: defined as older, minority, of lower income, and often the first generation in their family to attend college (NCES, 2011). Their numbers have been increasing since the 1970s, while the “traditional” definition of a college student as young, financially dependent, and living on campus now describes only about 14% of current undergraduates in the U.S. (Attewell & Lavin, 2012). While the bulk of undergraduates engage in higher education as commuters, however, most research on higher education (with the exceptions of Chang, 2005; Pascarella, Duby & Iverson, 1983) continues to focus on traditional, residential institutions. Urban commuter colleges, such as community colleges and the new, for-profit career colleges, have attracted the most challenged segments of the non-traditional population (Baum, Little, & Payea, 2011; NCES, 2012). Compared to other four year colleges, urban commuter and career colleges have a significantly larger percentage of students below the poverty line, a larger percentage of single parents, African American and Latino students, and first generation college students (Deming, Goldin & Katz, 2010; Rosenbaum, Deil-Amen, & Person, 2006) that, taken together, raise the specter of growing segregation in higher education. About 72% of two year and 54% of four year community colleges are minority students, while minorities constitute about 80% of career college enrollments (NCES, 2012). This concentrated environment of minority, disadvantaged students at commuter schools presents a challenge to social models of college success.

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Birds of a Feather:
Social capital of non-traditional students

On the one hand, recent studies suggest that non-traditional students may have more frequent contact with faculty than their more “traditional” counterparts (Cole, 2008; Pascarella, et al; 2004) and that African American students in particular tend to have the highest frequency of contact with faculty (Fischer, 2007; Kuh & Hu 2001; Lundberg & Schreiner, 2004). Since the home environment of non-traditional college students often lacks the social capital of those familiar with implicit college know-how, they especially need to reach beyond family and friends to succeed (Deil-Amen & Rosenbaum, 2003). On the other hand, non-traditional students have more responsibilities outside of school, such as employment and children, and have less time and opportunity for developing social capital on campus (Pascarella & Chapmen, 1983; Pascarella, Pierson, Wolniak, & Terenzini, 2004). This exploratory research hopes to expand on the literature of social capital in higher education by focusing on the non-traditional population of an urban, commuter college and by measuring student faculty ties as a group or mezzo-level construct. Most studies measure student ties to faculty in isolation from their relationships with other adults. Without considering the entirety of a student’s academically relevant social network, however, high levels of faculty interaction could simply be a proxy measure for extroverted personality traits (Chapmen & Pascarella, 1983). In addition, the importance of strong family ties to the academic success of especially African American and Hispanic students (Guiffrida, 2005; Herndon & Hirt 2004; Nora & Cabrera, 1996) suggests that the importance of faculty over family ties be explored and not assumed. Yet the bulk of research on the nature and value of college student social capital focuses exclusively on interaction with professionals or with family and community...


References: Pascarella, E. T., Wolniak, G. C., & Pierson, C. T. (2003). Influences on community college students ' educational plans. Research in Higher Education, 44(3), 301-314.
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