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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Paths on life’s way : destinations, determinants, and decisions in the transition from high school Andres, Lesley


This study investigated how and why individuals chose various post-high school destinations. Theoretical frameworks based on Härnqvists (1978) conceptualization of the determinants of educational choice, rational choice theory as depicted by Elster (1986, 1989a, 1989b), and Bourdieu’s Theory of Practice (1977c, 1979, 1986, 1990b) were used to examine 1) the complex of individual and institutional influences of educational choice, 2) the processes underlying the decisions people made in choosing whether or not to pursue a post-secondary education, and 3) how students in the midst of the transition from high school to various post-high school destinations perceived these processes. Central to these analyses are the concepts of cultural capital, primary and secondary social capital, beliefs about and dispositions toward post-secondary education, academic capital, and enabling capital in relation to post-high school status. This research, conducted in British Columbia, has undertaken two kinds of examination: 1) the exploration of choices made by a large sample of recent high school graduates (n5345), as reported on a survey questionnaire and enriched by corresponding Ministry of Education linked data and 2) two sets of intensive, focused interviews conducted with a sample of Grade 12 students (n51) who were in the process of making choices about post-high school destinations. Three different types of analyses were conducted to explore the choice process. First, discrirninant function analyses were carried out to determine which individual and institutional determinants of educational choice, as depicted by Härnqvist, best predicted post-high school group membership (non-participant, non-university participant, university participant). Second, structural equation modelling using LISREL VI was employed to unravel the processes, as depicted in a model of Post-high School Status, that led to differential group membership. Finally, interviews with Grade 12 students were carried out to explore students perceptions of these processes. In the first discrirninant analysis, non-participants and participants in postsecondary education comprised the dichotomous grouping variable. Employing the variables included in Härnqvists framework, 74% of the non-participants and 79% of the participants could be correctly classified into their respective groups. The most powerful predictor was curricular differentiation, followed by level of education expected, total number of awards received, and primary social capital (parental influence variables). In a second discriminant analysis with non- university and university participants as the grouping variable, and based on the same set of predictors, the type of post-secondary institution attended was correctly predicted for 81% of university participants and 75% of non-university participants. High school grade point average most strongly predicted group membership, followed by curricular differentiation and level of education expected. Primary social capital (parental influence variables) or secondary social capital (influence of school personnel and peers) were not useful predictors in this analysis. In a three group discriminant analysis (non-participant, non-university participant, and university participant), the first function distinguished among these three groups on academic capital variables, disposition variables, and parents as sources of cultural capital, and the second discriminant function distinguished among the groups on primary and secondary social capital variables and number of academic awards received. Based on Härnqvist’s schema, 81% of university participants, 50% of non-university participants, and 67% of non-participants were correctly classified. Analyses by gender were also reported for each discriminant analysis. In the second type of analysis, a theoretical model of Post-high School Status was tested using LISREL VI. Strong positive relationships were demonstrated to exist between academic capital and post-high school status, and between dispositions toward post-secondary education and academic capital, for both males and females. The effect of parents as sources of cultural capital on dispositions toward post-secondary education was moderate, for both males and females. The total effects of parental transmission of cultural and social capital on post-high school destinations was significant. In these analyses, 58% of the variance in post- high school destination for the male sample and 54% of the variance for the female sample was explained. In the third analysis, the processes of educational choice were further explored through interviews with Grade 12 students. Of particular theoretical interest were differences in students’ long term dispositions toward post-secondary education, beliefs about post-secondary education, and how parents as sources of primary social capital enabled their children to pursue higher education. It was concluded that the treatment of two disparate strands of thinking (rational choice theory and Bourdieu’s Theory of Practice) as complementary rather than competing provide a coherent account of how students made choices about post-high school destinations. The theoretical frameworks developed for this study hold potential as a first step in revitalizing the investigation of equality of educational opportunity. Implications for further research, theory development, and policy directions are offered.

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