Congratulations to Dr. Amanda Butz on the successful defense of her dissertation study, “Connecting the Dots: Social Capital and the College-Going Beliefs of Rural Appalachian Students”! We are so proud of all the work Amanda has done not only in her own research but in making our research lab what it is. Congratulations, Dr. Butz!
First-generation students and students of lower socioeconomic status often prepare for postsecondary education without the benefit of information provided by their families, resulting in lower levels of college access (Lundberg, 2007). Few researchers have sought to understand how potential first-generation college students might go about obtaining the necessary information for a successful transition to college. The purpose of this dissertation was to determine to whom students talk about college and to explore the potential reciprocal relationship between resources for and information about college provided by others and students’ educational beliefs.
This dissertation consisted of two empirical studies. In the first study, the composition of students’ networks and differences in social capital were examined among middle and high school students from a rural Appalachian school district (N = 388). Students reported to whom they talked about college and answered questions about each person that they named. Junior and senior high school students spoke to fewer individuals about college than middle grades students. Senior high school students spoke to individuals in their networks more frequently than middle grades students. Boys spoke to fewer individuals about college than girls. Boys received fewer pieces of information about college compared to girls. Potential first-generation college students had fewer individuals in their network who had completed a college degree.
The purpose of the second study was to examine the relationship between students’ college information networks and students’ beliefs about college. Participants were 364 students in Grades 6-12 from a rural Appalachian school district. Information on students’ college information networks was collected to better understand the relationship among first-generation college students’ access to social capital, their college-going self-efficacy, and their educational aspirations. College-going self-efficacy and educational aspirations were both significant predictors of available social capital. Social capital was not a significant predictor of students’ educational beliefs. College cultural capital was a significant predictor of students’ social capital and educational beliefs. Results of this dissertation are discussed relative to social cognitive theory and suggestions for educational interventions and future research are offered.