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Nola O’Connor, Article Critique Example

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Article Critique

In “Hispanic Origin, Socio-Economic Status, and Community College Enrolment,” Nola O’Connor (2009) argues that Hispanic students are overrepresented in community colleges, despite their desire, as a group, to complete college studies at the BA level.  Although community colleges continue to play a vital role in furthering the educational and professional aspirations of students, O’Connor notes that our competitive job market does not lend the same status to Associate degrees as it has in previous generations.  She has determined that Hispanic students who attend community colleges are less likely to pursue their Bachelor degrees from 4-year institutions, a decision which limits their career opportunities after the completion of their educations.  The correlation between attendance at community college and the inability or unwillingness to subsequently enter into advanced academia “translates in many cases into a labor-market disadvantage, and then into a social disadvantage” (O’Connor, 2009, p. 122).  Through a comprehensive review of the available sociological literature, O’Connor draws parallels between the socio-economic status of Hispanic students and their success in higher education, illustrating how a crucial information gap often prevents them realizing their educational aspirations.

O’Connor’s methodological approach involves reviewing and disseminating existing research in the field.  As such, she has found that some researchers believe that community college exists merely to maintain social stratification.  From this perspective, such schools are seen as a means to direct low-income and minority students away from 4-year institutes so as to “maintain hierarchy in higher education, and prevent overproduction of college graduates that the economy cannot absorb” (O’Connor, 2009, p.122).  However, O’Connor notes that the data documenting the demographics of both community colleges and 4-year colleges are contradictory.  While some studies indicate that the earning power of college students increases exponentially in comparison with those individuals who have only a high school degree, there is much debate in the educational community regarding the ‘substitution’ effect wherein a student’s earning power is compromised when attending a community college instead of a 4-year college.  The disadvantages faced by Hispanic students in comparison to their White peers includes a reduced likelihood of attendance at 4-year colleges accompanied by a reduction in graduation rates when they do attend such institutes of higher education.  Although O’Connor notes that Hispanics are participating in higher education at greater numbers than White students, they tend to be less selective in their choice of schools and are more likely to attend 2-year institutions than either Black or White students.  O’Connor attributes this, in part, to risk factors which include teen pregnancy, lack of financial resources, late entry into higher education, and the lacking of prerequisite math, science, and English courses necessary to qualify for 4-year colleges.

The literature review conducted by O’Connor is substantial and in-depth, contributing greatly to her assertion that Hispanic students are currently at a severe social, professional, and financial disadvantage to their non-Hispanic counterparts. She has found that parental socio-economic status (SES) is a primary predictor of whether their offspring will complete high school, attend a two or four year college, and complete their degree. Although members of low socio-economic classes are becoming more active in higher education, this gain is offset by similar gains amongst higher classes, thus continuing SES disparity.  One interesting item of note was the discovery that although Black and Hispanic students may exhibit the same lack of family resources, increased family size, and other factors which negatively effect low-income students, Hispanic students were over-represented at the community college level.  This suggests to O’Connor that Hispanic students have a higher than average expectation of participating in higher education that may begin at the high school level. Causes for this statistical anomaly may stem from an attitude within high schools which encourage all students to aspire to college, regardless of whether they follow the academic-track or not. A lack of awareness amongst Hispanic students regarding the extreme relevance of their high school performance may result in their disproportionate attendance at community colleges and their under-representation at 4-year institutions which generally hold much more stringent admissions policies.  Access to information about higher education also plays a vital role in dictating where Hispanic students will attend college.  Although Hispanic parents tend to be equally involved in their children’s education as White parents, they lack information concerning the best way in which to gain entrance to 4-year colleges, which substantially limits their ability to assist their children in preparing their college admissions applications.

O’Connor’s review of available sociological literature concerning the attendance of Hispanic students at the college level has determined that SES plays much less of a role than was previously believed.  SES affects White, Black, and Hispanic students equally; the disparity arises when it comes to the dissemination of relevant information for both parents and students regarding how best to strategically translate high school experiences into college acceptance.  She recommends a comprehensive reevaluation of the manner in which high school guidance counselors advise their Hispanic students, with an emphasis on providing parents with relevant literature in both English and Spanish.  Although she acknowledges that there remains many other areas of this subject to be addressed, she encourages other researchers and scholars to strive for a greater understanding of the Hispanic community as a whole, so as to better comprehend how social and cultural factors affect the college attendance rates of Hispanic students.

References

O’Connor, N. (2009). Hispanic origin, socio-economic status, and community college enrolment. The Journal of Higher Education, 80(2): 121-145.

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