Although our society has made college more universal through vastly increased access to postsecondary education, college completion has stagnated, and the return on a college degree varies by field of study. Therefore, gaining admission to college – even a four-year college – is no longer a guaranteed ticket to social mobility. As colleges and universities attract and enroll more diverse populations of students, the barriers to student success once enrolled remain prominent concerns. To explore stratification processes regarding student success, choice of major, and completion, interviews were conducted with 41 low-income students at a large research university. These interviews illustrate the ways that students’ aspirations are lowered after entering college and how the cooling-out process functions within STEM majors. The primary catalyst facilitating the lowering of student aspirations and migration out of STEM majors was negative experiences in introductory math and science courses. Students responded to this catalyst by either lowering their aspirations or changing their behavior to improve performance in those courses. Students who were able to persist in STEM majors had a family member or mentor who helped them to frame the problem as a reflection of their behavior, not their innate ability, and to strategize behavioral changes. Institutional agents played both the role of support which helped some students maintain their aspirations and the role of steering students out of STEM illustrating the importance of the messages we send as advisors, student affairs professionals, or faculty. These findings demonstrate the ways in which the cooling-out process works in four-year institutions to perpetuate structures of opportunity within degree attainment and access to elite careers.
Haeger, H. and Deil-Amen, R. (2016), "Cooling Out and Leveled Aspirations among Low-Income University STEM Students", Paradoxes of the Democratization of Higher Education (Research in Social Problems and Public Policy, Vol. 22), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp. 69-96. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0196-115220160000022003Download as .RIS
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