The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

What Is the Postsecondary Education Achievement Process for Young Adults From Families with Low Levels of Family Capital?

Thursday, January 17, 2013: 2:00 PM
Marina 6 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Eric Waithaka, Doctoral Student Social Welfare, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Background and Purpose:

Research on the relationship between family background and children’s education achievement shows that there are disparities in virtually every aspect of higher education, from college enrollments to graduation rates, between affluent and low-income families. Therefore, we know that that family background matters, but the ways in which it matters and what families actually do are key issues that researchers are still grappling to gain a deeper understanding of. Also, most of the extant research focuses on how affluent families influence the education achievement of their children. Unfortunately, little is known about the postsecondary education process of young adults who come from families with low levels of family capital (resources). This study seeks to provide a glimpse into the postsecondary education transition process of young adults whose families were participating in public or assisted housing programs in one Pacific Northwest city. 



This study used a narrative qualitative methodology to examine young people’s thoughts about their current lives and future possibilities. This study used a combination of purposive and snowball sampling techniques. Eligibility for this study was limited to individuals between the ages of 18 and 25 years who were from a family that was participating in any program in a Pacific Northwest Housing Authority. This study successfully recruited fourteen young adults who met the two study criteria. This study used a topic-based interview schedule as its main data collection instrument. Data collection was through use of in-depth conversational interviewing of study participants. Atlas.ti 6.2 was used for the analysis.



Of the 14 original study participants, eight participants (57%) had graduated high school or had a general equivalency diploma (GED). Of these eight, five (5) had proceeded on to college or were in the process of starting college. This study has three major findings: One, nearly all our young adult respondents aspired or were aspiring to attend college regardless of whether they had finished high school, dropped out or were in the process of finishing high school.  Two, these young adults did not recognize that getting an education was a form of human capital (or asset) development. Most thought the process of acquiring an education was just a rite of passage in their transition to adulthood. Some felt it was what was expected of them by their parents, teachers and other significant people in their lives. Three, having a supportive adult(s) outside the immediate families of our respondents was crucial with regard to post-secondary transition to college.

Conclusions and Implications:

This study suggests there is need for researchers and policy makers to continue thinking of interventions that would encourage further involvements of supportive adults in young adults’ lives. Supportive adults could assist vulnerable young adults not only with education transitions, but also in other transitions such as career and family capacities.