Dr. Lara Perez-Felkner

Home » Research » College Access: Race/Ethnicity, Class, & Policy

College Access: Race/Ethnicity, Class, & Policy

Extending from her graduate work, Dr. Perez-Felkner has consistently been interested in pathways to educational attainment. These interests are particularly acute with respect to underrepresented minority youth, low-SES students, and high school and community factors that influence college going and retention. Her mixed-methods dissertation and master’s thesis both focused on high-aspiring ethnic minority youth, most of which were low-income and Latina/o. Since then, she has collaborated with graduate students and faculty colleagues on papers with specific attention to potential interventions, supports, and policies that can enhance underrepresented students’ access and persistence in college.

Representative Publications

Orozco, R. & Perez-Felkner, L. (revise & resubmit). Ni De Aquí, Ni De Allá: Conceptualizing the Self-Authorship Experience of Gay Latino College Men Using Conocimiento. Journal of Latinos and Education.

This conceptual manuscript concerns the experiences of gay Latino men in college. Bridging literature from the fields of Higher Education, Sociology, and Latino Studies, we first explain how intersecting ethnic, gender, and sexual identities can act as compounding influences on students’ college experiences. Second, we review two distinct but complementary developmental theories: Baxter Magolda’s (1998, 2008) self-authorship and Anzaldúa’s (2002) conocimiento. Next, we apply these frameworks to develop a culturally responsive framework gay Latino college men’s pursuit of authentic identities. Self-authorship and conocimiento experiences (termed here: conociéndose y escribiéndose) might better enable gay Latino men to persist through college.

Perez-Felkner, L. (2015). Perceptions and Resilience in Underrepresented Students’ Pathways to College. Teachers College Record, 117(8). Full text available here, with TCR reprint rights.

Even in the age of school reform and expanded access, low-income, underrepresented students continue to work hard in their pursuit of college, risking family stress, health challenges, and burn out. Quality relationships with school teachers and peers seems to promote resilience, based on results of this three year, multiple method original case study. Students who perceive positive regard for their potential to succeed in school from school-based teachers and peers were found to have stronger transition to college outcomes. Given the challenges faced by even high-aspiring underrepresented youth, facilitating the development of these relationships appear to be a critical part of schools’ improvement and reform efforts.

Perez-Felkner, L., Hedberg, E. C., & Schneider, B. (2011). The Changing Landscape for Educational Opportunity: Enhancing the Public Option for Black Youth. In D. Slaughter-Defoe, H. Stevenson, E. Arrington & D. J. Johnson (Eds.), Black Educational Choice: Assessing the Private and Public Alternatives to Traditional K-12 Public Schools (pp. 234-254). Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger Press. Full text here. See also APA link.

Leveraging two recent nationally representative US cohorts of secondary students (NELS:1988 & ELS:2002), we examined the degree to which an increasingly complex set of public school options has affected postsecondary matriculation for youth, with a particular focus on black youth. We accounted for the characteristics influencing students’ propensity to enroll in schools of choice. Comparing findings for students attending high school in the early 1990s and 2000s, it is notable that the predictive influence of race and socioeconomic status decreased over time, while other student characteristics and behavior increased in their influence on the transition to college. While math and science course taking predicted both two-year and four-year college matriculation in the NELS cohort, the influence of course taking did not meaningfully predict two-year college matriculation in the later ELS cohort. On average, we found that students attending a “school of choice” in high school were no more likely to enroll in four-year colleges, as compared to their peers in more traditional public schools.

Perez-Felkner, L. (2009). Cultivating college dreams: Social pathways to educational attainment. Ph.D. Dissertation, The University of Chicago, Chicago, IL. See also ProQuest link.

This dissertation investigates the social mechanisms undergirding the pathways of working class, predominantly Latino adolescents pursuing post-secondary educational aspirations. In so doing, this study contributes to the study of how social capital operates within organizations toward educational outcomes. Between 2005 and 2008, I collected multi-method case study data in a Chicago charter school, using ethnographic fieldwork, interviews, and two waves of survey data collection. This unique dataset was designed to enable comparisons between these students and their local and national peers, using matched measures from Chicago Public School data and the NCES Educational Longitudinal Survey of Youth, including important psychometric measures, such as a modified Rosenberg self-esteem scale, Phinney’s Multiethnic Identity Measure, and measures of self-esteem and well-being. This research responds to the dominant theoretical explanations for the ethno-racial gap in educational attainment: educational and socioeconomic resource shortages, cultural resistance and oppositional culture, stereotype threat and self-schemas, social capital and social networks, and ethnic identity development. Employing these longitudinal and multiple methods, this study presents a framework for understanding the students’ post-secondary pathways through a social lens. The results demonstrate the means by which institutional expectations promote high educational aspirations. The data explains how social ties within the school population might provide protective effects that further both the youths’ aspirations and actual attainment. For those students who change their ambitions or fail to realize their expectations, the longitudinal data enables an explanation of the mechanisms behind the reasons why their dreams “just don’t work out.” The study does not demonstrate any evidence for experience of stereotype threat while the students are in high school; it does however find explanations at the school culture level to anticipate such problems, which have varying effects at the individual level. Later waves of survey, interview, and school enrollment data demonstrate that matriculation and retention in these and other four-year colleges present more complicated and less linear trajectories.


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