Migrant Students Attending College (page 2)
To succeed in college, migrant students must (1) complete high school with adequate preparation for college, (2) apply and be accepted to college, (3) find scholarships or other funding to attend, and (4) progress through college to graduation. Being a migrant complicates these basic steps because of frequent moves, poverty, gaps in previous schooling, and language barriers. Migrant students also confront societal and institutional barriers, due to ethnic differences and community isolation. Despite these challenges, some migrant students attend and graduate from colleges and universities. This Digest discusses common stumbling blocks and ways colleges and universities can help more migrant students succeed.
Migrants are defined in U.S. Department of Education guidelines as "...migratory workers, or the children of migratory workers who move for the purposes of obtaining seasonal or temporary work in agriculture or fishing" (U.S. Department of Education, 1994).
Poverty, language, and cultural differences add to the challenges posed by mobility, the identifying characteristic of the migrant child. Moving from place to place makes it difficult to attend school regularly, learn at grade level, accrue credits, and meet all graduation requirements. It is also difficult to participate in sports or other socializing activities and gain nonagricultural work experience. Mobility makes it harder to receive the adult support most young people need to prepare for college (Johnson, Levy, Morales, Morse, & Prokop, 1986) and meet the residency requirements of some colleges.
For more than 20 years, the U.S. Department of Education's Migrant Education Program has worked with states and local districts to improve high school graduation rates of migrant students. As a result, graduation rates have risen from 10% to more than 40%. This success was acknowledged in the 1994 reauthorization of funding for the program. Now educators are being urged to "...prepare [migrant children] to make a successful transition to postsecondary education or employment" (U.S. Department of Education, 1994).
Data regarding migrant college entrance and completion rates are limited because few programs track students beyond high school graduation. Also, funding for the Migrant Student Record Transfer System was terminated in 1994, eliminating a nationwide database on migrant students.
Migrant high school dropout rates ranged from 45% to 65% in two older studies (Levy, 1987; Vamos, 1992). These studies were based on students tracked from sixth grade or later. A high "disappearance" rate of migrant students impeded such studies; students were lost because they no longer qualified for services or moved and were not located again.
Far more information is available about Hispanic students in general. These studies are relevant because most migrants are Hispanics. One study revealed Hispanic enrollment in higher education doubled between 1984 and 1995, the largest gain among the four major ethnic minority groups. But only 45% of these students enrolled in four-year institutions. Hispanics are still underrepresented (by about 50%) in postsecondary institutions overall (Carter & Wilson, 1997).
Despite steady gains in the number of postsecondary degrees conferred, Hispanics remain underrepresented in this category also. In 1993, while Hispanics comprised about 10% of the U.S. population, they earned only 5.9% of associate degrees, 3.9% of bachelor's degrees, 2.9% of master's degrees, and 4% of professional degrees (Carter & Wilson, 1996).
Obstacles and Elements of Success
Various studies have identified obstacles encountered by migrant college students. For example:
Since recent antiaffirmative action laws were passed in California, minority student participation at public universities and graduate institutions has decreased. The diversity of enrollment at private institutions, however, has increased (Carter & Wilson, 1997).
Students with pending or without adequate immigration documentation face limited access to postsecondary education and financial aid. Some adult education programs and community colleges serve them. These students show an enrollment decline, while minorities generally have gained in enrollment (Carter & Wilson, 1997).
Time is important for migrant students who must finish college and begin earning a living to help support family members (Young, 1992).
In a study of 129 migrant youth who had received awards from the Mattera National Scholarship Fund, Duron (1995) identified financial need as the primary reason for dropping out of college.
The Duron study provided several other insights into migrant students' experiences before and after attending college. The most important factors contributing to students' decisions to participate in postsecondary education were:
- access to quality high school and college counseling that offers an array of options;
- personal factors, including the individual's motivation and beliefs about self efficacy;
- financial factors including access to scholarships, loans, and work or work-study programs;
- ongoing support from family and educational personnel (pp 34-35).
The last of these factors was considered paramount by nearly all of the students. Parent involvement in decision making about education is key to an overall home/school/community supportive partnership.
Other studies have shown that certain preparations during high school can increase migrant students' chances for success in college:
Schools should provide academic opportunities for making up credit, tutoring, appropriate courses, and test-taking and study-skills development (Johnson, et al., 1986).
Schools need to nurture a supportive environment with expressed expectations by staff that migrant students will attend college. Staff should assist students in applying to and preparing for college, and encourage students to interact with peers planning to attend college. This type of involvement increases college attendance rates (Horn & Chen, 1998).
Parents need to become engaged in their children's education and discuss college options with them (Horn & Chen, 1998).
Reprinted with the permission of the Education Resources Information Center.
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