Background: Differences exist between high schools in their commitment to and efforts toward guiding and aiding students in their postsecondary pathways; however, little is known about how the curricular experiences of high school students, and the related messages they receive, shape their sense of university readiness and postenrollment persistence behaviors and decisions. Although Latino students have struggled to succeed in college, few qualitative studies elaborated their experiences as they transition into universities. This is problematic given that Latino students are not a uniform group and often originate from differing high school contexts. The messages Latino students interpret about college-going while in high school can have bearing on their subjective framings of the challenges they later face that could threaten their university persistence.
Purpose: We explore how Latino students originating from various high school types experience the university transition process and their first year at a four-year university. We focus on the extent to which Latino students of different socioeconomic status (SES) levels and curriculum placement report the presence of either “college-for-all” or gatekeeping norms at their high school to understand the influence of such norms on their university persistence. Lori Diane Hill’s “college-linking” approaches also serve as a framework for the influence of high school contexts in promoting certain norms for these Latino students.
Research Design: This two-part qualitative study includes 131 Latino students attending a broad access university. Data were analyzed from essays and two sets of semistructured interviews. First, we describe how these messages shape their perspectives regarding their university aspirations. Second, we examine how their self-assessment transforms during their first year of university study and its relevance to their persistence decisions and behaviors.
Results: Findings indicate that students were differentially exposed to a college-for-all or gatekeeping ideology based on their high school SES and curriculum placement. Once at the university, students reflected on these past high school messages, reinterpreting and applying them to their first-year university experience. Generally, students exposed to college-for-all messages described feeling deceived about their readiness, whereas those exposed to gatekeeping felt inadequate and doubted their ability to persist through first-year challenges.
Conclusions: Recommendations consider the implications that college-linking and high school messages may have on persistence decisions. We reconceptualize notions of university readiness by infusing new subjective components not addressed in prior research.