Background/Context: College access programs aim to enhance students’ college-going capital, which includes the “knowledge, skills, or dispositions” that support students’ pathways to and through higher education (Means & Pyne, 2016, p. 391). While some college access programs aim to remedy students’ “deficiencies” in capital (Bloom, 2008), strengths-based approaches recognize and amplify the cultural assets and capital that marginalized individuals and their communities possess. One such approach is community-based youth participatory action research (YPAR), which empowers young people as co-researchers to investigate topics of importance in their lives.
Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This study explored how participation in a community-based YPAR project facilitated the college aspirations and perceived development of college-going capital among underserved (low-income, first-generation, and racially and ethnically minoritized) youth in a college access program.
Setting: The setting for this research was a university-based college access and success program, Achievement Program (pseudonym).
Population/Participants/Subjects: Ten high school tenth-graders in Achievement Program participated in the YPAR project. All are low-income and first-generation students and eight identify as Students of Color.
Intervention/Program/Practice: YPAR project participants assisted in designing and executing a qualitative research study on the barriers and opportunities that first-generation and/or low-income college students face. Participants also engaged in related activities such as reflective journaling, a trip to meet with national higher education policy organizations, and community engagement.
Research Design: This research utilized an interpretive case study approach.
Data Collection and Analysis: Data were drawn from three one-on-one, semi-structured interviews with each participant, photo elicitation, and one focus group with all ten participants. For analysis, the authors collaboratively developed a codebook focused on the impact of YPAR participation on development of college-going capital.
Findings/Results: Participants showed evidence of beginning to understand that although the college-going barriers they have faced are systemic, they hold power to challenge those barriers and effect positive change. YPAR participation also enabled participants to recognize their connections with and responsibility toward their communities and helped them connect educational pursuits such as research with working to improve college access and success for other low-income and first-generation students.
Conclusions/Recommendations: This study provides evidence for how incorporating community-based YPAR into college access programs can empower youth from underserved populations as agents of their college-going journeys by connecting them with college-going capital located within their communities. Therefore, we recommend that college access program professionals incorporate YPAR projects into their curricula to better support underserved students’ college-going journeys.