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Educational Expectations and Progress of Community College Students: Does Socialization Matter?


by Xueli Wang - 2016

Background: While literature is abundant on factors associated with community college student outcomes, limited attention has been paid to what shapes educational expectations after students enroll, and how these expectations are linked to educational progress. To address this gap, Weidman’s undergraduate socialization theory is particularly relevant, as this theory not only applies to traditional-age college students, but also to adults of varying ages who constantly adapt themselves to changing circumstances, which is characteristic of community college students.

Purpose: Informed by Weidman’s theory, this study examines the following questions: First, what sources of socialization play a role in shaping students’ educational expectations after they enroll at a community college? Second, in what ways are educational expectations and sources of socialization related to students’ educational progress?

Research Design: The research involves an analytical sample of 979 students enrolled at a public two-year college in a Midwestern state in spring 2012. The study relies on survey data, collected using the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE), along with students’ enrollment records. Factor analyses were first applied to extract a theoretically sound factor structure aligned with the study’s conceptual underpinning, followed by a structural equation modeling analysis to answer the two research questions.

Findings: The undergraduate socialization model shows validity based on the study’s sample. Results indicate that socialization processes underlying transfer expectations versus completion expectations are distinct from each other. While socialization that concentrates on the interpersonal, social domain tends to foster student expectations to complete a community college credential, these socialization sources do not matter much for promoting transfer expectations, which are largely subject to influences of socialization processes with a distinct academic focus. In addition, both completion and transfer expectations positively influenced educational progress. When educational expectations were accounted for, only a limited number of socialization sources exerted a direct influence on educational progress, as part of the socialization effect was conveyed indirectly through educational and, particularly, completion expectations.

Conclusions: This study reveals the value of understanding community college students’ educational expectations and progress through the lens of socialization. Findings from this research illuminate the critical need to differentiate among varieties of educational expectations and understand the different socialization processes shaping these expectations. In addition, community college leaders should focus on cultivating positive educational expectations and beliefs, as well as assisting students in finding the paths aligned with their expectations.



America’s community colleges have long been known for opening doors to a diverse student population and granting them the prospect of obtaining qualifications leading to further educational and professional success (Alfonso, 2006; Bailey & Averianova, 1998; Bryant, 2001; Cohen, Brawer, & Kisker, 2013; Hagedorn & DuBray, 2010; Leigh & Gill, 2003; Rouse, 1995). Despite the access and opportunities these colleges offer, helping their students make educational progress and improving student success remain a challenge. Although the doors are wide open, the stairway is narrow and slippery. Too often, community college students have low completion rates and struggle to stay in a program (Bailey & Alfonso, 2005; Barnett, 2011). Also, only half of students who attend community colleges with the intention of transferring to a four-year university actually do so (Handel, 2007). As community colleges evolve into a key player and stakeholder in the college completion agenda (Kelly & Schneider, 2012; Mullin, 2010; Remarks of President Barack Obama, 2011; Schneider & Yin, 2012), the relatively low completion rates of students starting at these colleges have not improved in recent years (Bound, Lovenheim, & Turner, 2010). Given that the vast majority of students starting at these colleges initially report high educational expectations in regard to their college completion and upward transfer (Bailey & Morest, 2006; Hoachlander, Sickora, Horn, & Carroll, 2003; Kojaku & Nuñez, 1998), the less than perfect reality of the low completion and transfer rates may reflect a gap between students’ early educational expectations and subsequent ones after enrolling, which may impede their educational progress and eventual attainment (Adelman, 2006; Domina, Conley, & Farkas, 2011; Epps, 1995; Wang, 2013).


A rich body of literature deals with educational outcomes of community college students, such as retention, transfer, and completion (e.g., Bailey & Alfonso, 2005; Bailey, Jenkins, & Leinbach, 2005; Bragg & Durham, 2012; Breneman & Nelson, 1981; Brint & Karabel, 1989; Dougherty & Kienzl, 2006; Levin, Beach, & Kisker, 2009; Marti, 2008; Melguizo, Kienzl, & Alfonso, 2011; Roksa, 2006; Velez, 1985; Wang, 2009, 2012). However, only limited empirical work has been devoted to what shapes educational expectations after two-year college students enroll (Wang, 2012, 2013); even less attention has been paid to studying how these subsequent expectations are linked to educational progress (Rosenbaum, Deil-Amen, & Person, 2009). Although many studies account for educational expectations upon postsecondary entry as a control variable, this approach does not fully explain the psychological driver behind actual attainment of desirable outcomes: Students have to first maintain their educational aspirations (such as transfer or completing a program) to stay on track. In this research, I argue that, to understand the big picture of community college student success, students’ educational expectations after they enroll, in and of themselves, are an important proximal outcome that leads to the more distal outcome of student success. Focusing on these expectations as such offers the opportunity to delve deeper into the psychological and educational processes underlying students’ actual progress through community colleges.


Informed by Weidman’s (1989) undergraduate socialization theory, and drawing upon survey and administrative data collected at a public two-year college in a Midwestern state, this study examined the following interlocking questions: First, what sources of socialization play a role in shaping students’ educational expectations while attending the college? Second, in what ways are educational expectations and sources of socialization related to students’ educational progress?


THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK AND RELATED LITERATURE


The theoretical framework guiding this study is Weidman’s (1989) undergraduate socialization theory. Socialization is defined as “the process by which persons acquire the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that make them more or less effective members of their society” (Brim, 1996, p. 3). Drawing upon psychological and social structural conceptions, Weidman theorized that undergraduate socialization involves a series of processes through which students navigate college. They enter college with a set of background characteristics that represent their abilities, values, aspirations, personal goals, and socio-economic backgrounds. During college, students are exposed to sources of socializing influences through their relationships with college faculty and peers, parents, and non-college reference groups. A key source of such nature is the collegiate experience whereby students are situated within the academic and social normative contexts of college. The academic normative contexts include an institution’s academic characteristics, such as mission, quality, and major programs of study. The social normative contexts reflect formal and informal interactions with peers and faculty. Extending beyond most college impact models, e.g., Astin’s (1993) input-environment-outcome (I-E-O) model, Holland’s (1966, 1997) personal-environment fit model, Tinto’s (1975) theory of student departure, and many others, Weidman’s framework also highlights two additional sources of socialization while students attend colleges: parents and non-college reference groups, such as employers. Subject to these sources of socialization, students assess the relevance of these influences for attaining the goals and aspirations held prior to college entrance. This framework thus considers the joint impact of socialization sources within and outside of the immediate campus social structure, with an original primary focus on socialization outcomes, including aspirations, values, career choice, and lifestyle preferences.


While Weidman’s (1989) undergraduate socialization theory has informed abundant research dealing with four-year students (e.g., Bess & Webster, 1999; Carter, 1999; Chickering & Reisser, 1993; Espinosa, 2011; Gayles & Ampaw, 2011; Holley & Taylor, 2009; Hughes & Hurtado, 2013; Padgett et al., 2010; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991), its application in research focusing on community college students has been limited to only a few studies (e.g., Ethington, 2000; Myers, 2013). Yet this theory is particularly relevant for understanding the experience of community college students and the development of their educational expectations. A lifelong process, socialization not only applies to traditional-age college students, but also to adults of varying ages who constantly adapt themselves to changing circumstances (Weidman, 1989), which is characteristic of community college students. Also, as indicated earlier, what separates the socialization framework from other college impact models is Weidman’s intentional focus on socialization influences outside of the collegiate experiences. This broad conceptualization of socialization that extends beyond the college campus to include non-college reference groups such as employers and family is even more pertinent for studying community college students who, unlike their four-year, residential college student counterparts, often adopt many roles and juggle multiple responsibilities (Cohen et al., 2013; Karp & Bork, 2012).


Given these reasons, Weidman’s socialization theory represents an appropriate framework guiding this study in examining educational expectations as a key socialization outcome of community college students. In addition, in light of the close relationship between educational expectations and attainment documented by prior literature (e.g., Wang, 2012, 2013), this research also extends the socialization framework with the following hypothesis: Through educational expectations’ direct influence on educational progress, the latter becomes a distal outcome of socialization, which may well be also subject to the direct impact of socialization sources.


In the following section, I describe components of the socialization framework (Figure 1) in greater detail in the context of this study. While Weidman’s model serves as the primary theoretical basis of the study’s framework, where appropriate I also discuss minor adaptations of the model and pertinent literature that supports such choices in light of the study’s focus and target population. As such, the section also offers key conceptual descriptions of the variables employed in this research.



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STUDENT BACKGROUND


Weidman (1989) maintained that any conceptualization of the college socialization process, or college impact for that matter, would not be valid without considering student background characteristics that may correlate with specific outcomes being addressed. While listing in his model examples of background characteristics, such as aptitude, socio-economic status, and aspirations, Weidman acknowledged that the examples are not a definitive list. Indeed, appropriate selection and inclusion of background variables in any study is conditional upon the given outcomes of interest. In this study dealing with the proximal outcome (educational expectations) and distal outcome (educational progress) of socialization among community college students, background characteristics including students’ socio-demographics, academic preparation, and goals for attending college are particularly relevant, as suggested by previous studies (e.g., Bailey, Calcagno, Jenkins, & Leinbach, 2005; Crisp & Nora, 2010; Hagedorn & Lester, 2006; Spenner, Buchmann, & Landerman, 2005; Ting, 2003; Turley, Santos, & Ceja, 2007; Wang, 2009, 2013).


NON-COLLEGE REFERENCE GROUPS: FAMILY SOCIALIZATION AND OTHER REFERENCE GROUPS


In Weidman’s (1989) original model, socialization influences experienced by undergraduates external to the postsecondary institution are delineated as two distinctive sources: parental socialization and non-college reference groups. The model identifies parental background and influences as important contributing factors in a student’s development, along with non-college reference groups that include employers, students’ spouses and children, friends, and community organizations. The inclusion of these socialization sources outside of the collegiate environment is crucial for studying community college students’ expectations and outcomes, as these students, largely nontraditional in terms of age, work status, and family formation, often deal with competing demands of family and employers that shape their educational expectations and progress (Kienzl, Alfonso, & Melguizo, 2007; Lovell, 2014). While in essence, the model depicted in Figure 1 still collectively captures these factors, I changed “parental socialization” in Weidman’s original model into “family socialization” by combining potential socialization sources through both parents and students’ own families. This is because for community college students, the target population of this study, both support and demands from their families have been identified as strong factors that influence their success (Dayton, 2005; Karp & Bork, 2012). Family is thus a salient dimension of the community college student experience, where support from and for family members—parents, significant others, or children—is interwoven into one big fabric of their family socialization. In more specific ways, factors that represent family socialization among community college students include parental educational and linguistic background, students’ own marital and parental status, as well as the emotional and financial support from family members for attending college (Dennis, Phinney, & Chuateco, 2005; Karp, Hughes, & O’Gara, 2008; Prince & Jenkins, 2005).


Other non-college reference groups outside of family include employers and peers. Many community college students work part time or full time while attending school (Cohen et al., 2013; Coley, 2000; Karp & Bork, 2012; Spellman, 2007). For these students, their employers represent a major source of socialization outside of school. In addition, the amount of hours students work would shape the scope and extent of such socialization. Equally important, social ties to friends and peers outside of school also matter to college success, and the level of support from these individuals as a source of socialization is also likely to shape educational expectations and progress (Dayton, 2005).


COLLEGIATE EXPERIENCE


Central to the undergraduate socialization model is collegiate experience as a socialization process in which students are exposed to the impacts of normative contexts and interact with other members of the college community in various settings. Building upon Tinto’s (1975) work, Weidman (1989) divided normative contexts into academic and social domains, both consisting of formal and informal dimensions of socialization.


Academic Normative Contexts


In the original socialization model, formal academic normative contexts include institutional quality, which is measured in part by institutional selectivity and prestige (Weidman, 1989), institutional mission, and academic programs. The notion of academic normative contexts also applies in a community college setting, and academic programs are still a relevant normative influence in this setting (Bailey & Alfonso, 2005; Barnett, 2011; Jenkins & Cho, 2012). However, given that community colleges are open-access institutions, some of the measurement examples for formal academic normative contexts that Weidman illustrated (i.e., selectivity, prestige, and mission)—measures originally intended to be varying across four-year institutions—are no longer relevant in this single-institution study. Instead, I argue that institutional quality and mission can be reflected by the extent to which they emphasize providing support to foster students’ overall educational success. In addition, I distinguish programs of study by separating manufacturing and engineering programs from the rest, given the distinctive curricular environments of these programs. At the research site, manufacturing and engineering programs as a whole require higher levels of math and applied sciences than other programs (Washbon, 2013), and this distinction may lead to manufacturing and engineering programs having different academic normative contexts.


Informal academic normative contexts are also referred to as the “hidden curriculum” of higher education (Snyder, 1971; Weidman, 1989). Weidman maintained that there exist unwritten rules defining faculty expectations for students’ academic performance and behavior, and such unwritten rules are a powerful source of influence on students. Although Weidman did not explicitly describe how hidden curriculum should be measured, socialization in this domain is most likely to occur through students’ interaction with faculty and peers within and beyond the classroom for academically related matters. This is because such venues, in addition to the formal curriculum, directly and readily expose students to a set of unspoken rules and other informal norms regarding what is deemed acceptable in terms of students’ academic behavior and performance (Barnett, 2011; Karp & Bork, 2012; Karp et al., 2008).


Social Normative Contexts


The original socialization model describes the formal extracurricular structure of the college as a major dimension of social normative contexts. For community college   students who are predominantly commuters, such formal structure, typical on a four-year campus (e.g., residence halls, student organizations and governments) is not relevant to their experience. Therefore, this formal structure of social normative contexts is not part of the current study’s model. This, however, does not mean that socialization processes in the social normative domain are not important to community college students. As Deil-Amen (2011) suggested, developing and encouraging meaningful, personal relationships with institutional agents, such as faculty, peers, and staff members, will greatly enhance community college students’ socio-academic integration and sense of confidence in succeeding in their college career. In this regard, student interaction with and sense of ties to institutional agents in the social domain are a reasonable representation of their socialization experiences within the social normative contexts.


Other than these two socialization processes, Weidman (1989) also highlighted the importance of intrapersonal processes that involve students’ subjective assessment of their collegiate experience, measured by students’ perceptions of participation in various segments of the college environment. One such critical perception is student satisfaction with college (Astin, 1993; Napoli & Wortman, 1998; Nippert, 2000; Pascarella, Duby, & Iverson, 1983; Pascarella, Smart, & Ethington, 1986). In this study, student satisfaction with college is measured by the extent to which students are satisfied with essential support services, such as skills labs, computer labs, financial aid advising, and academic advising and planning.


As Weidman (1989) rightfully pointed out, the undergraduate socialization model is not intended to be exhaustive. Depending on the research questions and populations, appropriate adaptations can be made. Thus, drawing upon the socialization framework, with appropriate modifications that suit the community college environment and experience, I hypothesize that the set of socialization mechanisms described above will jointly and directly influence the educational expectations and progress of community college students. These socialization sources also exert an indirect impact on educational progress through their direct relationship to educational expectations.


METHODS

DATA AND SAMPLE


Data used in this study were collected using the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE), a national survey instrument established in 2001 at the University of Texas at Austin. The survey consists of a wide array of items that assess community college student experiences and behaviors, and institutional practices and environments that may influence student learning and engagement. Specifically, CCSSE measures students’ goals and aspirations upon entering college, their academic and social experiences while attending community colleges, their external responsibilities and roles, along with their assessment of the institutional focus and performance. Overall, CCSSE contains rich information on the extent to which students are exposed to and engage in various socializing influences within and outside of the community college.


The CCSSE data used in the study were collected in spring 2012 at a public two-year comprehensive college in a Midwestern state. The college is located in an urban area, with a total enrollment of over 40,000 students, nearly half of them being racial/ethnic minority students. CCSSE staff selected a random sample of all daytime credit-bearing courses, and the resulting 2,358 students in the selected classes received an informed consent sheet and a paper-and-pencil survey questionnaire. Students who chose to participate in the survey completed the paper questionnaires. For the purpose of this study, in addition to the standard CCSSE survey items, questions measuring students’ educational expectations after they enrolled at the college, such as their perceived likelihood of upward transfer and program completion, were developed and included in the instrument as custom survey items by the researcher. The survey took about 45 to 50 minutes to complete. Of the 2,358 students who received the survey, 1,466 returned a completed survey questionnaire, for a response rate of 62.2%. Of these respondents, 1,041 (70%) students provided a valid student ID that was used to link their CCSSE survey data to administrative records and the National Student Clearinghouse data that provide students’ educational progress information, such as retention, graduation, and transfer as of fall 2013. For the purpose of this study, the sample was first narrowed down to these 1,041 respondents who provided valid student IDs. In addition, given the focus of the study and the fact that not all students attend community colleges to complete an education credential or to transfer, the sample was further restricted to students who reported either credential completion or transfer as a primary goal of attending this college, resulting in a final analytical sample of 979. It is interesting to note that when applying this restriction, only 62 students, a small fraction of the original sample, reported “self-improvement/personal enjoyment,” “changing careers,” or “obtain or update job-related skills” as the only primary reason/goal for attending the college, and were thus excluded from the analysis. On the other hand, among the final analytical sample of 979 students who already indicated credential completion or transfer as a primary goal, 718 (69%) also reported “changing careers” or “obtain or update job-related skills” as a primary goal. To further control for this goal orientation, a dichotomous variable in the analysis was created to indicate whether the student’s goal is “credential oriented only” or “both credential-and-career oriented.”


VARIABLES


Educational Expectations and Progress


The ultimate outcome variable of the study is students’ educational progress as of fall 2013 (1= being enrolled at the college, having graduated, or being enrolled at another college; 0 otherwise). Two measures address educational expectations: (a) transfer expectations, a four-point scale measuring students’ perceived likelihood of transferring to a four-year university within the next three years; and (b) completion expectations, a four-point scale measuring students’ perceived likelihood of completing a credential at the community college on time.


Based on the socialization model discussed earlier, five sets of independent variables, both observed and latent, were included in the study: (a) student background including gender, race/ethnicity, nontraditional age status, remedial education (as an academic preparedness indicator), whether they had earned more than 30 credits at the college when completing the CCSSE survey, and their goal orientation; (b) family socialization including whether the student was a first-generation college student, whether the student was an English language learner, the extent to which the student’s immediate family is supportive of the student’s attending the college, number of hours spent in a typical week providing care for dependents living with the student, and the extent to which the source of tuition comes from the student’s immediate family; (c) other non-college reference groups including items measuring the extent to which the student’s friends are supportive of the student’s attending the college, number of hours spent in a typical week working for pay, and the extent to which the source of tuition comes from employer contributions; (d) college academic normative contexts including programs of study, perceived institutional emphasis, and hidden curriculum via academic interaction within and beyond the classroom, (e) college social normative contexts including social interaction, sense of ties to institutional agents, and student satisfaction with college. For a detailed description of these variables and their measurement, refer to Table 1.



Table 1. List of Variables Used in the Study


Variable name

Description

Dependent variables

 

Transfer expectations

Perceived likelihood of transfer to a four-year institution within three year (1 = not likely, 2 = somewhat likely, 3 = likely, 4 = very likely)

Completion expectations

Perceived likelihood of completing intended credential on time (1 = not likely, 2 = somewhat likely, 3 = likely, 4 – very likely)

Educational progress

Education progress as of fall 2012 (1 = enrolled at the college, having graduated, or being enrolled at another college, 0 = not enrolled, no credential)

Independent Variables

 

Student background

 

Respondent’s gender

Binary variable (1 = female, 0 = male)

Respondent’s race/ethnicity

A series of dummy variables indicating African American, Hispanic, and other minorities (Asian, Indian American, and Other racial/ethnic groups), with White as the reference category

Respondent’s age

Binary variable (1 = 25 years old and above, 0 = 24 years old and younger)

College readiness

Binary variable (1 = need for developmental education, 0 = no need for developmental education)

Credit hours completed

Binary variable (1 = 30+ credits, 0 = less than 30 credits)

Goal orientation

Binary variable (1 = credential oriented only, 0 = dually oriented toward both credential and career)

Family socialization

 

First-generation college student

Whether respondent is a first-generation student, recoded from parents’ highest level of education (1 = yes, 0 = no)

Respondent’s ELL status

Binary variable (1 = English as a second language, 0 = English as a primary language)

Marital status

Binary variable (1 = yes, 0 = no)

Parental status

Having children (1 = yes, 0 = no)

Family supportiveness

Level of supportiveness from student’s immediate family for attending college (1 = very little, 2 = somewhat, 3 = quite a bit, 4 = extremely)

Dependent care—weekly

Number of hours per week providing care for dependents

Family as primary source of tuition

Extent to which student’s source of tuition comes primarily from immediate family (1 = not a source, 2 = contributing source, 3 = primary source)

Non-college reference groups

 

Supportiveness from friends for attending college

Level of supportiveness from student’s friends for attending college (1 = very little, 2 = somewhat, 3 = quite a bit, 4 = extremely)

Working for pay

Hours spent in a typical week working for pay (0 = none, 1 = 1–5 hours, 2 = 6–10 hours, 3 = 11–20 hours, 4 = 21–30 hours, 5 = more than 30 hours)

Employer as primary source of tuition

Extent to which student’s source of tuition comes primarily from employer (1 = not a source, 2 = contributing source, 3 = primary source)

College academic normative context

 

Programs of study (manufacturing  and engineering vs. other)

Whether student’s selected program of study is in  manufacturing and engineering field of study (1 = yes, 0 = no)

Perceived institutional emphasis*

Student’s perception of how much institution emphasizes support for learners (1 = very little, 2 = some, 3 = quite a bit, 4 = very much)

Hidden curriculum—class-based interaction*

Frequency at which respondent interacts with other students, instructors, and advisors regarding academic matters inside and outside of class (1 = never, 2 = sometimes, 3 = often, 4 = very often)

Hidden curriculum—interaction with faculty beyond class*

Frequency in which respondent communicates with instructors and receives feedback (1 = never, 2 = sometimes, 3 = often, 4 = very often)

College social normative context

 

Social interaction*

Frequency at which respondent interacts with other students, instructors, and administrative personnel and offices; participates in peer groups; and other social interactions (0 = never, 1 = sometimes, 2 = often)

Sense of ties to institutional agents*

Quality of relationships respondent has with other students, instructors, and administrative personnel and offices (seven-point scale; 1 = unfriendly, unhelpful, unsupportive; 7 = friendly, helpful, supportive)

Satisfaction with college*

Student’s satisfaction with institution (1 = not at all, 2 = somewhat, 3 = very)

  

Note. Latent factors are denoted with an “*” in the table.




ANALYSIS


In the first step, an exploratory factor analysis (principal components extraction, followed by varimax rotation) was performed on 25 CCSSE items assumed to measure the latent constructs of the study (e.g., perceived institutional emphasis, social interaction, sense of ties to institutional agents, and satisfaction with college). This analysis extracted six latent factors with eigenvalues greater than 1.0, offering a theoretically sound factor structure aligned with the study’s conceptual underpinning. This factor structure was later included in a confirmatory factor analysis as the measurement model in the subsequent structural equation modeling analysis. The reliability (internal consistency) of the questionnaire scales in measuring their corresponding latent factors was assessed using Cronbach’s alpha. Results indicate acceptable reliability with all alpha values falling between 0.6 and 0.8. (See Table 2 for the list of the factors, survey items loaded on each factor and their corresponding factor loadings, along with Cronbach’s alpha statistics for each factor.)


Table 2. Factor Loadings for Latent Constructs in the Study

Description of factors

Loading

Cronbach’s

Alpha

Perceived institutional emphasis

 

.784

How much does this college emphasize:

  

 -Providing the support you need to thrive socially.

.814

 

 -Helping you cope with your non-academic responsibilities (work, family, etc.).

.786

 

 -Encouraging contact among students from different economic, social, and racial or ethnic backgrounds.

.709

 

 -Providing the support you need to help you succeed at this college.

.695

 

 -Providing the financial support you need to afford your education.

.482

 

Hidden curriculum—class-based interaction

 

.722

Worked with other students on projects during class.

.543

 

Worked with classmates outside of class to prepare class assignments.

.565

 

Made a class presentation.

.465

 

Discussed grades or assignments with an instructor.

.653

 

Used e-mail to communicate with an instructor.

.486

 

Received prompt feedback (written or oral) from instructors on your performance.

.605

 

Asked questions in class or contributed to class discussions.

.521

 

Hidden curriculum—interaction with faculty beyond class

 

.660

Discussed ideas from your readings or classes with instructors outside of class.

.708

 

Talked about career plans with an instructor or advisor.

.772

 

Worked with instructors on activities other than coursework.

.596

 

Social interaction

 

.782

Had serious conversations with students who differ from you in terms of their religious beliefs, political opinions, or personal values.

.900

 

Had serious conversations with students of a different race or ethnicity than your own.

.947

 

Discussed ideas from your readings or classes with others outside of class (students, family members, coworkers, etc.).

.646

 

Sense of ties to institutional agents

 

.715

Quality of your relationships with other students.

.679

 

Quality of your relationships with instructors.

.815

 

Quality of your relationships with administrative personnel and offices.

.617

 

Satisfaction with college

 

.642

How satisfied are you with: Skills lab.

.488

 

How satisfied are you with: Computer lab.

.559

 

How satisfied are you with: Financial aid advising.

.532

 

How satisfied are you with: Academic advising/planning.

.690

 




Due to the study’s use of latent variables and its focus on the inter-linkages among observed variables and latent factors, a structural equation modeling (SEM) analysis was performed to answer the research questions. In this process, a confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) was first conducted to measure the latent variables uncovered in the stage of exploratory factor analysis. A confirmatory factor analysis accounts for measurement errors inherent in survey research and captures them into residual terms (Kline, 2011).


The structural part of the SEM model is a path analysis of a set of regression equations which hypothesize a priori theoretical linkages among endogenous and exogenous variables. In this study, the structural part of the model was comprised of three regression equations that were estimated simultaneously. Specifically, the first two equations examined the influence of socialization sources on each of the two educational expectations variables. The third equation assessed the influence of socialization sources and educational expectations on educational progress. In the hypothesized model, the measures of transfer and completion expectations were each functioned as mediating variables in conveying the indirect effect of the socialization sources on educational progress. Following Kline (2011) and Byrne (1998, 2010), the model fit statistics such as chi-square (χ2 ), root-mean-square error of approximation (RMSEA), comparative fit index (CFI), and Tucker-Lewis fit index (TLI) were evaluated to determine whether the proposed model fit the data well. All analyses were conducted using Mplus 7.11, a statistical software package capable of modeling a variety of SEM analyses using a mixture of continuous and categorical data types (Muthén & Muthén, 1998–2012). The missing data estimation approach used was full information maximum likelihood (FIML). The model estimation method used was the mean and variance adjusted weighted least squares estimation (WLSMV).


LIMITATIONS OF THE STUDY


As with most empirical studies, this research has several limitations. First, while CCSSE offers a rich set of relevant variables that were used to operationalize the key elements in the conceptual model, the measures are by no means perfect. For example, survey items that measure hidden curriculum only capture the frequency at which students engage in the socialization sources, not the quality of such engagement. Also related to the use of survey data, nonresponse error is inherent as students selected in the initial sample but declined participation might have responded to the survey differently. In addition, findings from this study do not imply causality given the methodological approaches and the nature of observational data. That said, I have to note that, because random assignment distributing each source of socialization among students is virtually impossible, a study of such nature lends itself to rich descriptions of relationships, instead of establishing causation. The relationships described in this study should not be interpreted as causal. Also, this study was based on data collected at a single institution. The results have immediate implications for the research site and broad ones for other similar two-year colleges and their students, as well as future research. Still, the results themselves are not directly generalizable to other institutional settings.


RESULTS


Among the study’s sample (N = 979), 45% were female and 54% were male. White students accounted for 52% of the sample, and the remaining 48% were racial/ethnic minority students. About 12% of the sample were English language learners, 44% were nontraditional age students (25 years old and above), 55% were first-generation college students, and nearly 50% demonstrated need for developmental education upon first enrolling. As of fall 2013, approximately 66% of the students in the sample completed a credential, were still enrolled at the research site, or transferred to another two-year or four-year institution, and roughly 34% of the sample members were no longer enrolled in postsecondary education without completing any credentials.


MODEL FIT


Model fit statistics were examined for both the measurement model and the full SEM model. Based on the RMSEA, CFI, and TLI values, the fit between the measurement model and the data was adequate (RMSEA = .04, CFI = .92, TLI = .91). Similarly, although the fit of the proposed SEM model was not an excellent one, the fit indices were within the acceptable ranges (RMSEA = .04, CFI = .91, TLI = .90).


ESTIMATES OF THE FINAL SEM MODEL


The following summary highlights results pertaining to the significant relationships between socialization, educational expectations, and educational progress among community college students at the research site. For the full set of results, refer to Table 3 where the estimated unstandardized and standardized structural weights (i.e., regression coefficients) for the final SEM analysis are presented.


Table 3. SEM Model Results: Unstandardized and Standardized Estimates of Direct and Indirect Effects

Direct Effects of Socialization Sources on Educational Expectations

 

Transfer Expectations

Completion Expectations

Model and Effect

Unstd.

estimates

S.E.

Std.

Unstd.

estimates

S.E.

Std.

Student background

      

Female

-.043

.085

-.020

.023

.088

.011

Black

.587***

.104

.235

.357**

.106

.142

Hispanic

.242*

.129

.078

-.012

.141

-.004

Other

.351**

.153

.095

-.049

.149

-.009

Nontraditional age

-.250**

.097

-.115

.034

.099

.016

Need for developmental education

.092

.080

.042

.047

.083

.022

Credits earned

.166*

.087

.071

.042

.089

.018

Goal orientation

.441***

.092

.181

-.325***

.095

-.132

Family socialization

      

First-generation

.104

.083

.048

.107

.083

.049

ELL status

.242*

.144

.072

.382**

.159

.113

Marital status

-.163

.107

-.061

.204*

.109

.076

Parental status

-.210*

.123

-.094

.088

.130

.039

Family supportiveness

-.052

.062

-.038

.112*

.067

.081

Dependent care—weekly

.020

.026

.039

-.025

.029

-.049

Family as primary source of tuition

-.008

.061

-.006

.075

.059

.051

Non-college reference groups

      

Supportiveness from friends for attending college

.048

.055

.039

.209***

.058

.170

Working for pay

.036*

.020

.068

-.055***

.021

-.103

Employer as primary source of tuition

.024

.077

.012

.034

.071

.017

College academic normative context

      

Programs of study (manufacturing vs. other)

-.135

.111

-.046

-.346***

.111

-.116

Perceived institutional emphasis

.185*

.110

.119

-.144

.107

-.092

Hidden curriculum—class-based interaction

.677***

.220

.327

-.107

.206

-.051

Hidden curriculum—interaction with faculty beyond class

-.277**

.138

-.198

.258**

.130

.183

College social normative context

      

Social interaction

-.015

.056

-.013

.029

.055

.026

Sense of ties to institutional agents

-.248**

.124

-.156

.347***

.117

.216

Satisfaction with college

.068

.104

.043

-.112

.103

-.071

       

Direct Effects of Socialization Sources on Educational Progress, Fall 2013

Model and Effect

Unstd.

estimates

S.E.

Std.

   

Transfer expectations

.095*

.049

.099

   

Completion expectations

.148***

.052

.155

   

Student background

      

Female

.177*

.093

.085

   

Black

-.276***

.117

-.115

   

Hispanic

-.199

.155

-.067

   

Other

-.157

.156

-.044

   

Nontraditional age

.003

.102

.001

   

Need for developmental education

-.075

.089

-.035

   

Credits earned

.432***

.102

.194

   

Goal orientation

-.177*

.104

-.076

   

Family socialization

      

First-generation

.075

.091

.036

   

ELL status

.103

.162

.028

   

Marital status

-.041

.123

-.016

   

Parental status

-.004

.128

.002

   

Family supportiveness

.020

.067

.015

   

Dependent care—weekly

-.006

.029

-.011

   

Family as primary source of tuition

.000

.064

.000

   

Non-college reference groups

      

Supportiveness from friends for attending college

.027

.062

.023

   

Working for pay

-.009

.022

-.018

   

Employer as primary source of tuition

 -.077

.083

-.041

   

College academic normative context

      

Programs of study (manufacturing vs. other)

  .030

.126

.011

   

Perceived institutional emphasis

   294**

.123

-.197

   

Hidden curriculum—class-based interaction

 -.176

.257

-.089

   

Hidden curriculum—interaction with faculty beyond class

  .188

.157

.140

   

College social normative context

      

Social interaction

  .000

.063

.000

   

Sense of ties to institutional agents

  .321**

.139

.210

   

Satisfaction with college

 -.045

.113

-.030

   
       

Significant Indirect Effects of Socialization Sources on Educational Progress, via Educational Expectations

 

Via transfer expectations

Via completion expectations

Black

  .056*

.030

.023

  .053**

.025

.022

ELL status

   

  .057*

.031

.018

Marital status

   

  .038*

.022

.012

Goal orientation

  .042*

.024

.018

 -.048**

.022

-.021

Supportiveness from friends for attending college

   

  .031**

.014

.026

Working for pay

   

 -.008*

.004

-.016

Programs of study (manufacturing vs. other)

   

 -.051**

.024

-.018

Hidden curriculum—interaction with faculty beyond class

   

  .038*

.022

.028

Sense of ties to institutional agents

   

  .051**

.023

.034



Note. Unstd. = Unstandardized, Std. = Standardized, S.E. = Standard Error; *** p < .01, ** p < .05, *  p < .10


In regard to educational expectations among community college students, results show that socialization processes underlying transfer expectations versus completion expectations were by and large distinct from each other, with the exception that African American students and English language learners consistently reported significantly higher expectations for transfer as well as completion. Specifically, students who are solely credential oriented reported significantly higher transfer expectations, compared to their counterparts who are dually oriented toward credential and career. On the other hand, solely credential-oriented students had significantly lower completion expectations than students dually oriented. Among family socialization sources, being married significantly increased completion expectations while showing no significant relationship with transfer expectations. Being a parent decreased transfer expectations, but did not influence completion expectations. The higher the level of supportiveness from immediate family students perceived, the higher their completion expectations, although the level of supportiveness from immediate family did not affect transfer expectations one way or another. In regard to socialization with other non-college reference groups, a higher level of supportiveness from friends for attending college was associated with higher completion expectations while exerting no influence on transfer expectations. The number of weekly hours spent working for pay showed opposing influences, positive on transfer expectations and negative on completion expectations.


This pattern of socialization’s different relationships with transfer and completion expectations remained when examining the collegiate academic and social normative contexts. For both expectations, several college socialization sources mattered, but again their influences differed depending on the specific type of educational expectations. Academic normative contexts that were significantly and positively associated with transfer expectations included perceived institutional emphasis and hidden curriculum through class-based interactions. Hidden curriculum via interactions with faculty beyond class in fact indicated a significant negative relationship with transfer expectations, while its relationship with completion expectations was significantly positive and substantial. Programs of study mattered for completion expectations only, with students in manufacturing and engineering programs reporting significantly lower completion expectations. Finally, in the social normative contexts, sense of ties to institutional agents showed significant relationships to both expectations, again negative to transfer expectations and positive to completion expectations.


Regarding the role of various socialization processes in educational progress as of fall 2013, results revealed that both transfer and completion expectations as reported in spring 2012 positively influenced educational progress. When educational expectations were accounted for, only a limited number of socialization sources exerted a direct influence on educational progress, as part of the socialization effect was conveyed indirectly through educational expectations, particularly completion expectations. To be specific, among student background variables, being female was positively related to educational progress, while being African American (as compared to being White) was negatively associated with educational progress. Academic milestone achievement (i.e., earning more than 30 credits at the college) positively influenced educational progress, and having a credential-only goal orientation (as opposed to dual orientation toward both credential and career) was a negative factor influencing educational progress. None of the variables in the domains of family socialization and other non-college reference groups showed a direct link with educational progress. In terms of college academic normative contexts, perceived institutional emphasis was positively related to educational progress, and sense of ties to key institutional agents in the college social normative contexts turned out to be a sizeable positive influence on educational progress.


The relatively small number of direct relationships between socialization sources and educational progress does not necessarily imply a weak link between socialization and educational progress among community college students. In fact, this link is carried by educational expectations, the mediating variables, to a substantial extent. As indicated in Table 3 (bottom section of the table), a number of socialization sources exerted their influence on educational progress through their relationships with transfer and completion expectations. In particular, socialization sources that directly affected completion expectations, such as friend support, working for pay, academic programs, hidden curriculum, and sense of ties to institutional agents, all exhibited patterns of influence on educational progress in ways similar to how they influenced completion expectations.


DISCUSSION


The aim of this study is to explore the relationship among socialization, educational expectations, and educational progress of community college students. Overall, the undergraduate socialization model shows validity based on the study’s sample. This suggests that research on community college students’ educational expectations and attainment may benefit from a careful consideration of how these students are socialized while attending community colleges.


SOCIALIZATION AND EDUCATIONAL EXPECTATIONS: THE NEED TO DIFFERENTIATE


Unlike their counterparts at 4-year institutions who almost uniformly expect to earn at least a bachelor’s degree, students attending community colleges develop more diverse educational expectations given the more complex missions and functions of these open access institutions (Cohen et al., 2013; Dougherty & Townsend, 2006). Mirroring this reality, instead of using a single measure of educational expectations, this study employs two different kinds of expectations—perceived likelihood of transfer to a 4-year institution and perceived likelihood of completing a credential on time—that are arguably the most prominent educational purposes that community colleges serve. Results suggest that differentiating between these two educational expectations is highly critical, as the socialization sources that help develop these expectations are distinctly different from one another.


Beyond student characteristics and background variables, such as earning more than 30 credits and having a credential-oriented goal for attending college, socialization sources within collegiate experience that help develop transfer expectations are found in the academic normative contexts (i.e., perceived institutional emphasis and hidden curriculum via course-based interactions). Given that perceived institutional emphasis in this study speaks to the institutional support mechanisms for academic success and hidden curriculum via course-based interactions represents a key dimension of academic learning, it seems to suggest that, in a community college context, socialization processes that revolve around academics are most salient for cultivating educational beliefs around transfer. It is highly plausible that, through utilization of academic services and frequent engagement with academic course-related activities and interactions, students increasingly aspire to and believe in the prospect of extending their academic pursuits beyond the community college level toward a baccalaureate education. In the presence of these two contributing factors that center on academics, interpersonal interactions not directly related to academics, such as interaction with faculty beyond the classroom and sense of ties to key institutional agents, actually decrease the expectations to transfer.


These counterintuitive findings may be better understood by turning to the positive influence of such non-academically oriented socialization sources on completion expectations. While interaction with faculty outside of the class and sense of ties to institutional agents seem to hinder transfer expectations, these socialization sources are highly contributive to increased completion expectations. Interestingly, the academically oriented socialization venues (i.e., course-based interactions and perceived institutional emphasis) that foster transfer expectations do not seem to do much for completion expectations. It seems to imply that, for community college students, feeling socially connected to the college environment and having quality interpersonal relationships with faculty, peers, and staff is even more critical than finding the academic fit in their belief of completing a credential on time. This finding is supported by Deil-Amen (2011) who suggests that supportive relationships community college students have with faculty and peers help them develop confidence in their intellectual identity. The present findings indicate that, through increased interpersonal connections with key socialization agents within the community college (or “significant others within the institution,” Deil-Amen, 2011, p. 86), students seem to demonstrate a stronger commitment to the institution by exhibiting higher completion expectations.


Although the normative context based on programs of study does not matter to transfer expectations, for completion expectations, programs of study do make a difference. I offer two plausible explanations for the significantly lower completion expectations reported by students enrolled in manufacturing and engineering programs. First, as suggested earlier, given the higher level of math and science technology course requirements in manufacturing and engineering programs as compared to other programs (Washbon, 2013), students could experience added academic challenges, thus lowering their expectations to complete the program on time. An alternative reason could be related to the higher demand for skilled workers trained in manufacturing and engineering programs, which may “norm” students in these programs into the idea of “jobbing out,” contemplating the prospect of landing employment in the field by acquiring the necessary skills without having to complete an educational credential. Obviously, these are only plausible explanations that warrant a separate study in the future.


Several other findings also resonate with the fact that transfer and completion expectations are driven by different socialization processes. For example, other than ELL status, none of the sources in family socialization seem to contribute to transfer expectations, while being married and the level of supportiveness from immediate family members for attending the college are linked to increased completion expectations. In regard to prior aspirations, students whose goals are solely credential oriented report higher transfer expectations, whereas those students whose goals emphasize both credential and career prospects report higher completion expectations. Taken together, these findings unfold intriguingly different socialization paths underlying transfer expectations and completion expectations, with the transfer path grounded to the academic side of the community college experience and the completion path hinging on a more complex negotiation of socialization sources heavily involving the social ties and support within and outside of the community college campus.


THE ROLE OF SOCIALIZATION IN EDUCATIONAL PROGRESS AND THE MEDIATING ROLE OF EXPECTATIONS


In this study, socialization’s role in educational progress of community college students is not only direct but also carried by educational expectations to a substantial extent. The positive association between the two measures of educational expectations and educational progress confirms prior literature highlighting the critical role of expectations in educational attainment (e.g., Astin, 1977; Braxton & Hirschy, 2005; Sewell, Hauser, & Wolf, 1980; Swail, Redd, & Perna, 2003; Wang, 2013). It is alarming to note that, despite African American students’ significantly higher educational expectations, when it comes to actual progress and attainment, they suffer a significant disadvantage compared to their White counterparts (Wang, 2013).


Other notable direct socialization influences include students’ goal orientation, their perceived institutional emphasis, and their sense of social ties to institutional agents. Compared to students who consider both credential and career prospects as primary goals, those who solely set credential outcomes as a primary goal are, in fact, significantly less likely to achieve progress within the study’s timeframe. Students’ sense of ties to institutional agents significantly contributes to educational progress, a finding well aligned with the college persistence literature (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005; Tinto, 1975, 1993). Although persistence studies predominantly concentrate on traditional students attending four-year institutions, the notion of college integration is not necessarily confined to the traditional college life, and may be crucial to students in two-year settings as well (Deil-Amen, 2011).


As discussed earlier, socialization sources that directly affect transfer and completion expectations exerted an indirect influence on educational progress in similar patterns. These findings pinpoint educational expectations as a key mechanism underlying the socialization factors and educational progress. In a larger sense, these results illuminate an often missing link in the discourse on community college student success: the beliefs, aspirations, and expectations these students hold and develop during their community college attendance. These educational beliefs are powerful and accurate precursors of student outcomes (Wang, 2009, 2012, 2013). Yet too often, “success” rates are discussed in light of the sheer inputs of students and the college environment, as if they were isolated from the potential warming-up, persistence, or cooling-out of students’ previously held aspirations and expectations. As I argued at the beginning of this article, this approach masks the psychological processes behind students’ decisions regarding persistence, transfer, or departure, and does not offer a focused direction as to where to target intervention to promote student success. Taking this study as an example, many sources of socialization do matter to the educational progress of the community college students under study. But without knowing the fact that it is the educational expectations that serve as the “bridge” between the two, the implications of the study would lack the appropriate contexts for them to truly make a difference to policy and practice.


IMPLICATIONS OF THE STUDY


Drawing upon the undergraduate socialization framework, this study reveals the value of approaching the community college experience through the lens of socialization in understanding community college students’ educational expectations and progress. A few important implications emerging from the current study should be of interest for policymakers, practitioners, and higher education scholars.


First of all, this study illuminates the critical need to differentiate among varieties of educational expectations of community college students and understand the different socialization processes shaping these expectations. While socialization that concentrates in the interpersonal, social domain tends to foster student expectations to complete a community college credential, these socialization sources do not matter much at all for promoting transfer expectations, which are largely subject to influences of socialization processes with a distinct academic focus. On the one hand, these findings help emphasize the invaluable role of social and interpersonal support and interactions that, until recent years, were considered as not important for community college student completion given the commuting nature of the two-year campus (Braxton, Hirschy, & McClendon, 2004; Halpin, 1990; Mutter, 1992; Voorhees, 1987). On the other hand, a transfer-conducive community college environment will need to extend well beyond fostering interpersonal relationships and focus on the kinds of socialization among students, faculty, peers, and academic support staff that are academically focused and enriching.


Furthermore, given the close and positive link between educational expectations and progress, and the salient mediating role of expectations in conveying the impact of socialization on progress, community college leaders may benefit from approaching their students’ success through the lens of cultivating positive educational expectations and beliefs, as well as assisting students in finding the paths aligned with their expectations (Wang, 2013). This can be achieved by collecting data on student expectations and providing targeted advising that informs students about academic and social programs and services, therefore helping them make cognizant academic choices and decisions. Indeed, if educational expectations are strong predictors of educational progress and attainment, as suggested by this study and other studies (e.g., Astin, 1977; Braxton & Hirschy, 2005; Domina et al., 2011; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991, 2005), then it is critical that community college educators have an accurate understanding of how these expectations develop, and use that knowledge to assure that students are set on the right trajectory toward achieving their educational expectations.


This study suggests the applicability of socialization theory in a community college context and reveals a number of interesting findings regarding the link between socialization sources and educational expectations and progress. Yet there is still much room for future research to extend our knowledge regarding the topic. Given the nature of socialization and the development of educational expectations, a follow-up, longitudinal study of this topic could be valuable in order to describe profiles for student expectations throughout their college career, rather than in just two years. Students need to be followed over time to determine the impact of socialization over the course of their college journey. Further tracking would allow observation of the long-term impact on community college students in order to determine whether or not this model relates to their eventual college success. In addition, only educational expectations are of concern within the study’s scope; future work should extend the model to the study of other expectations of community college students, especially in regard to careers. This is an especially relevant topic given the career orientation of many community colleges and that career aspirations are in fact listed as one of the direct outcomes of undergraduate socialization (Weidman, 1989). Research focusing on career-related beliefs that utilizes the socialization theory would thus have both practical implications and theoretical grounding.


As concern grows for community colleges and their efficacy in the student transfer and degree attainment process, this study adds to the much needed knowledge base on what is truly impeding two-year institutions and their student population from moving further toward realizing their educational goals. To date, socialization of community college students has not been studied extensively in the literature pertaining to their success. In addition, no existing theoretical models or empirical research of community college students have explicitly related socialization to their educational expectations and progress, as well as examined the mediating role of educational expectations linking socialization to educational progress. Thus, results from the structural equation model as tested in this study help advance research in this area.



Acknowledgements


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1104226. The author would like to thank Al Phelps and Todd Lundburg for their comments on earlier drafts, and Yan Wang for help with the data. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.  



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 118 Number 5, 2016, p. 1-32
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 19371, Date Accessed: 1/27/2022 10:35:37 AM

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About the Author
  • Xueli Wang
    University of Wisconsin-Madison
    E-mail Author
    XUELI WANG is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research deals with community college students’ access to, transitioning into, and attainment at four-year institutions, as well as students’ participation in STEM fields of study. Wang’s recent work includes studies such as “Baccalaureate Expectations of Community College Students: Socio-Demographic, Motivational, and Contextual Influences,” published in Teachers College Record, and “Pathway to a Baccalaureate in STEM Fields: Are Community Colleges a Viable Route and Does Early STEM Momentum Matter?” published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis.
 
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