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

Explaining Economically Distressed Children’s Educational and Career Choices: The Role of Financial Resources, Motivation, and School Characteristics

Thursday, January 17, 2013: 3:30 PM-5:15 PM
Executive Center 2A (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
Cluster: Adolescent and Youth Development
Symposium Organizer:
William Elliott, PhD, University of Kansas
Terri Friedline, MSW, LCSW, University of Pittsburgh
Background & Significance: Many factors influence educational success for students, including motivation, ability, and effort. Structural factors also impact the progress of youth. These include school facilities, teacher-student ratios. In addition financial or physical resources are used by families to purchase school related supplies and tuition without which education progression and success is unattainable. This symposium presents evidence of ground breaking findings that address a range of direct determinants of educational success. The first study examines whether college-bound (i.e., students who expect to graduate from a four-year college and who are high achieving) low-income 10th graders enroll in a four-year college shortly after graduating from high school – i.e., the amount of “wilt” that occurs and whether  asset accumulation, especially in the form of college savings, may help reduce wilt. The second study examines how individual- and school-level characteristics influence academic performance of Ghanaian youth. The third study tests the prediction that people will be more motivated to work on important academic and career self-goals when uncertainty about the world is paired with certainty about the self at the moment of choice.

Methods: The first study uses data from the Educational Longitudinal Study (ELS:2002/2006), which is divided into  Low-to-moderate income (LMI)  sample (N = 3,289; weighted 737,068) and moderate-to-high income MHI (N = 4,744; weighted 976,792). Simple logistic regression is used to test whether effort and ability are deciding factors for student success in school.  The second study uses data from Ghana YouthSave baseline (n= 6,252) to test whether individual or school factors influence student’s math and english examination scores using hierachichal linear modeling. The third study tests the prediction that people are more likely to pursue their goals when relative uncertainty about the world and relative certainty about one’s own abilities are simultaneously accessible compared to other possible self-world certainty-uncertainty pairings.  Participants were college students randomly assigned to condition (n = 102, n = 247, n = 84).

Results: 46% of college-bound LMI students fail to enroll in a four-year college after graduating high school compared to 26% of middle- to high-income (MHI) college-bound students. This is a gap of 20%. The average Math and English scores were 22.53 (9.65) and 23.04 (9.88), respectively. Thirty-seven percent of the variation in math and 32% of the variation in english scores are between schools. Compared to participants in the self-uncertainty condition, participants in the context-uncertainty condition generated more school-focused expected and feared possible selves (control condition participants were midway between the two uncertainty conditions.

Conclusions: Education is a means to economic mobility. However, in the current economy, it is hardly surprising that the world often feels uncertain, unstable, unpredictable, and even unfair.  Despite this uncertainty, people often do not give up on pursuing important future goals. Policies that encourage and facilitate college savings may help students think about college as within reach.

* noted as presenting author
Give up or Get Going? Motivational Effects of Accessible Uncertainty about Self and World
Daphna Oyserman, PhD, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor; Leah James, MS, MSW, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor; George Smith, BA, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor; Michael Varnum, Peking University
Individual and School Effects On Academic Performance of Youth in the Ghana Youthsave Experiment
Gina Chowa, PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Rainier D. Masa, MSW, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Christopher Wretman, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; David Ansong, MSW, Washington University in Saint Louis; Isaac Osei-Akoto, Univesity of Ghana
When Effort and Ability Are Not Enough to Reduce the College Enrollment Gap, Does College Savings Help?
William Elliott, PhD, University of Kansas; Hyun-a Song, MSW, University of Pittsburgh
See more of: Symposia