‘On being first’: Navigating aspirations and pathways to higher education for prospective first in family students

Year: 2016

Author: Patfield, Sally, Gore, Jennifer, Fray, Leanne, Lloyd, Adam

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In recent decades, discourses of widening participation and aspiration have become prominent within the Australian higher education sector. This study investigates an overlooked ‘group’ within this agenda in Australia - first in family students, those without parental experience of university. Upon entering university, first in family students have been described as ‘strangers without codebooks’ (Jehangir, 2010), with limited access to the field-based cultural capital legitimated in higher education. Moreover, these students can be framed as ‘lacking’ and ‘at risk’ due to their background (Terenzini et al., 1996), both in terms of their cultural capital and their demographics potentially placing them at intersections with, and between, various equity categories. Drawing on data from a mixed method longitudinal study conducted with primary and high school-aged students (n = 6,492) from New South Wales public schools, this study contributes to the existing body of research by exploring the aspirations of ‘prospective’ first in family students – those who are yet to enter university. The majority of studies examining first in family students tend to focus on those who have already arrived at university, meaning that we lose sight of the complexities involved in navigating the pathway to university, and the decision-making involved before arriving there – or even in fact, deciding not to attend, or delaying entry. Acknowledging both the heterogeneity within the label ‘first in family’ and the complexities surrounding how to understand and investigate ‘aspiration’, Yosso’s (2005) conceptualisation of community cultural wealth and Appadurai’s (2004) theorisation of ‘the capacity to aspire’ are employed to investigate the demographic characteristics, educational aspirations and occupational aspirations of these students, and conceptualise how they navigate towards higher education. This study provides evidence that can inform future widening participation initiatives to assist prospective first in family students in accessing higher education.ReferencesAppadurai, A. (2004). The capacity to aspire: Culture and the terms of recognition. In Y. Rao & M. Walton (Eds.), Culture and public action (pp. 59-84). Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.Jehangir, R. R. (2010). Higher education and first-generation students: Cultivating community, voice, and place for the new majority. Retrieved from http://www.palgraveconnect.com/pc/doifinder/10.1057/9780230114678 Terenzini, P. T., Springer, L., Yaeger, P. M., Pascarella, E. T., & Amaury, N. (1996). First-generation college students: Characteristics, experiences, and cognitive development. Research in Higher Education, 37, 1-22. doi:10.1007/bf01680039Yosso, T. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race, Ethnicity & Education, 8, 69-91. doi:10.1080/1361332052000341006