Warming Up, Cooling Out, or Holding Steady?

Persistence and Change in Educational Expectations After High School

Published in: Sociology of Education, v. 81, no. 4, Oct. 2008, p. 371-396

Posted on RAND.org on October 01, 2008

by Karl Alexander, Robert Bozick, Doris R. Entwisle

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This article examines the expectation to complete a bachelor's degree among a predominantly low-income, mainly African American, panel of Baltimore youths at the end of high school, at age 22, and at age 28. Across this time, stability is the modal pattern, but when expectations change, declines are more frequent than increases. Although disadvantaged youths and those with limited academic resources from high school are the most prone to give up the expectation to complete college, both factors recede in importance during the transition to adulthood when postsecondary enrollment becomes more salient. Clark's "cooling-out" thesis and Rosenbaum,s "college-for-all" thesis predict a downward leveling of ambition, especially among youths with high expectations and limited resources and those who attend two-year colleges. The results indicate, however, that the expectations of low-resource youths are not distinctively cooled out by the college experience, and, net of other considerations, two-year college attendance is associated more with warming up than with cooling out. Hence, the dynamics proposed by Clark and Rosenbaum do not adequately account for changes in college expectations over the years after high school. A broader framework, situated in life-course ideas, is recommended.

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