New UCLA, UC Research Highlights Experiences Of Youth In Poverty
By Claudia Bustamante
College-educated women earn less than men without similar training, students graduate high school unable to pursue college or a career, and more than 65,000 undocumented youths graduate high school each year only to face uncertain educational futures.
These are among the findings recently released by a multicampus endeavor spearheaded by the University of California that focuses on low-income youth's access to and completion of college degrees.
Much of the research on students and poverty has focused on students as a monolithic group, ignoring the differences in barriers and opportunities across various subcultures. To better understand poor students and why reforms to help them are inadequate, researchers from UCLA, other UC campuses and universities in Arizona, Iowa and New York collaborated on a multidisciplinary special issue of the Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk (JESPAR).
Coordinated by the UC All Campus Consortium on Research for Diversity (UC/ACCORD), experts in public policy, sociology, race and ethnic studies, and education contributed conceptual and empirical articles on various student populations. The issue features work by UC/ACCORD director Daniel Solorzano, a professor of social sciences and comparative education at the UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies (GSE&IS); Michael Stoll, professor and chair of public policy at the UCLA School of Public Affairs; and Tara Watford, director of research for Pathways to Postsecondary Success at GSE&IS.
The JESPAR special issue is part of Pathways to Postsecondary Success, a five-year study funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to advance research.
Solorzano said the project is trying to reconceptualize the frameworks that drive current thought on the relationship between poverty and youth.
"What makes Pathways unique is that it examines the experiences of youth from many of the subpopulations that are overrepresented in poverty— Latinas/os, African Americans, undocumented immigrants and young single mothers," he said.
Pathways will soon conduct national analyses and local surveys documenting opportunities and obstacles for the target population; conduct case studies of three separate communities in Los Angeles, San Diego and Riverside to provide in-depth portraits of student experiences; and produce a set of statistical indicators that can monitor outreach efforts in this population.
Statistics on low-income youth give a disturbing view and suggest efforts to reach them are not as successful:
- Only 13 percent of low-income youth nationwide complete a four-year degree by age 28.
- 77 percent of low-income youth between the ages of 19 and 22 are not in school, and 35 percent are neither in school nor working.
- Two-thirds of African American mothers between the ages of 19 and 22 in California are low-income, and nearly half live in poverty.
UC Irvine researcher Leisy Abrego, who co-wrote one of the articles on undocumented students' difficulties attending college after graduation, said she was shocked to discover very little research focusing on the K–12 experience of undocumented youth.
"Most of the research focuses on students who are in college right now, but that's a small minority of all undocumented students," said Abrego, a UC President's Postdoctoral Fellow. "It's really limiting our understanding (of this population), given that the vast majority don't make it to college."
Abrego's work, along with that of the other contributors, has helped reshape the thinking of youth in poverty and the institutions that serve them.
"We want a better understanding of the institutions, the students and the factors of poverty that shape youth experiences beyond school walls," Solorzano said.