“Stone Steppers” and “Place Makers”: Community College Students’ Transfer Aspirations and Perceptions of Time
by Mary Ippolito - 2021
Background/Context: Sociologists of education have studied how community colleges’ institutional authorities and organizational barriers stratify students’ postsecondary aspirations. Notions of how students might diverge in their pursuits are less understood. This study builds on imagined futures and postsecondary aspiration literature to demonstrate how students’ agency and institutional barriers interconnect, creating two different transfer approaches based on patterns in students’ sense of place and time.
Research Questions: (1) How do community college students who aspire to transfer perceive campus as a place? (2) How do students see their time at community college as part of their plans?
Setting: Tutoring center, campus events, classrooms, and surrounding areas at a community college in Southern California.
Research Design: Drawing on combined data from 11 months of participant observation (approximately 185 hours), eight semistructured interviews with key participants, and a novel timeline approach, this study analyzes how students’ mental boundary work and interactions with others reveal distinct interpretations of being a transfer-bound student.
Findings/Results: In noting patterns in students’ sense of place and time, I found two “lived pathways”: students act as “stone steppers” or “place makers.” Stone steppers had tighter boundaries around what on-campus activities they defined as academic or work and a detailed plan for their future. Place makers were less segmented in their view of academic or work activities and more open-ended in their plan for the future.
Conclusions/Recommendations: This study offers a contextual and process-focused examination of the pursuit of postsecondary aspirations based on students’ lived experiences and narratives. In focusing on the interplay between students’ agency and community college context, this study provides several key takeaways for community college personnel and other stakeholders to use in serving students and best connecting their goals to their pathways and movement through college.
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