Extending the Field of College Access: A Critical Ethnography on the

by Paul Rodriguez
Percentage of those age 25-39 with at least a bachelor’s
degree in 2011:
Whites: 39%
Hispanics: 13%
African Americans: 20%
(Aud et al. , 2012)
to use an ethnographic approach to explore
the characteristics of the organizational
culture of college-going at an urban,
archdiocesan Catholic high school in San
Antonio, Texas
to illuminate how the social and religious
histories of Catholic schools have impacted the
current declining enrollment crisis within the
Catholic school sector (Holland, 2001)
The constrained curriculum offers more
academic course offerings for students (Bryk et
al., 1995)
Graduate with three more credits of core
academic courses than students in the public
sector ( Lee & Bryk, 1988).
More likely to enter a four-year college by 13
percentage points. Also more likely to attend
more selective colleges (Ellison &Hallinan,
Catholic schools are in a state of demise
1965 – 5.6 million
1971 – 4.1 million
1982 – 3.1 million
2005 – 2.4 million
Between 2000-2012, 1,942 Catholic schools had
either closed or been consolidated
This study is significant to the field of college
access and the high school to college transition
precisely because the Catholic school sector is
diminishing, even though it has historically
provided equitable postsecondary access to
underrepresented populations.
How has the history of St. Peter’s Catholic
parish and the surrounding community
influenced or impacted who attends SP High
What are the characteristics of the
organizational culture of college going in an
urban Catholic high schools that influence
who goes to college and who goes where?
Social Capital: Networks or
connections of people that can
lead us to other networks or
forms of information
Cultural Capital: Actual
information or forms of
knowledge that a particular
cultural group may deem as
having value.
Field: The area of site where
people compete for control or
optimal access with a particular
Habitus: The system of beliefs,
assumptions, or dispositions of
a group or individual that are
shaped by their environment.
Practice: Entails the improvised
actions and decisions that are
made by social actors.
“…shows how social class operates through
high schools to shape students’ perceptions of
appropriate college choices” (McDonough,
1997, p. 107).
"Critical ethnographers of education seek to
describe the concrete experiences of everyday
school/educational life and the social patters
and deep structures that support it" (Steinberg,
2012, p. 273).
Conventional ethnography asks what is.
Critical ethnography asks what could be"
(Thomas, 1992, p. 4)
St. Peter’s Catholic High School: An urban
archdiocesan high school in South Texas
Free and Reduced Lunch: over 80% qualify
Ethnic Breakdown: 71% Hispanic, 22% Black,
Enrollment Numbers: 106 currently, 250 in 1994, 475 in
Graduation Data: 100% graduation rate; 86.4% enter
college in the last ten years
Interviews: semi-structured format, open-ended
(1 Principal,1 academic dean, 8 faculty, 2
administrators, 5 alumni, 2 pastor)
Observations: Classroom sessions, college-related
activities, meetings between students and college
recruiters, SAT test prep activities.
Archival Data: School records, yearbooks, minutes
from past meetings, ArchSA Archival Library.
First cycle coding generated between 250-300
codes that would eventually be organized into
12-15 categories.
Second cycle coding allowed me to collapse
and eliminate codes to arrive at a concise
number of emergent themes.
The organizational habitus of SPH is
expanding their students’ options for
postsecondary access (Lee & Bryk, 1988). In
other words, as social actors, administrators
and faculty can broaden the students’
consideration set for college (McDonough,
“They can take a cab or a bus to those local
schools. I prefer for them to come to us”
-Academic Dean
The preferred practice of exposing students to
college is through bringing college
representatives and recruiters from outside San
Students are encouraged to view their collegegoing potential as a matter of how much
scholarship money they can accumulate. In
multiple settings, the Academic Dean typically
asks students of their scholarship worth and
that his expectation is for students to have
monetary overflow that covers tuition and all
other expenses.
Some institutions that fall under this category
require minimal academic requirements and
provide multiple forms of scholarships in the
form of incentives to attend as well on-the-spot
admissions, even for students that have not
applied to the institution (Venezia & Kirst,
The organizational habitus of college-going at
SPH is heavily based on expanding the college
choice consideration set of students. However,
the structure and execution of certain
components of the college process may
compromise the overall chance to persist
towards degree attainment since institutional
type and fit were given less consideration.
Aud, S., Hussar, W., Johnson, F., Kena, G., Manning, E., Wang, X., & Zhang, J. (2012). The Condition
of Education 2012 (NCES 2012-045). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, National
Center for Educational Statistics.
Baker, D. P., & Riordan, C. (1998). The 'eliting’ of the common American Catholic school and the
national education crisis. Phi Delta Kappan, 80(1), 16-23.
Bourdieu, P., & Passeron, J. C. (1977). Reproduction in society, education and culture (2nd ed.).
London: Sage Publications.
Bryk, A. S., Lee, V. E., & Holland, P. B. (1995). Catholic schools and the common good. Cambridge,
MA: Harvard Univ Press.
Ellison, B., & Hallinan, M. (2004). Ability grouping in Catholic and public schools. Catholic Education:
A Journal of Inquiry and Practice, 8(1), 107-129.
Grace, G. (2003). 'First and foremost the church offers Its educational service to the poor': Class,
inequality and Catholic schooling in contemporary contexts. International studies in sociology of
education, 13(1), 35-54.
Lee, V. E., & Bryk, A. S. (1988). Curriculum tracking as mediating the social distribution of high school
achievement. Sociology of Education, 61(2), 78-94.
Thomas, J. (1992). Doing critical ethnography (Vol. 26). London: Sage Publications, Incorporated.
Paul Rodriguez, M. Ed.
Doctoral Candidate
Dept. of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies
[email protected]
The academic dean/counselor at this particular
archdiocesan high school serves as the primary
mechanism for shaping the college going culture of
the entire school.
Student characteristics such as academic record
and financial capability have driven a "how much
are you worth?" initiative and a broad college
choice spectrum: Christian, work-study, 2-year,
Although the field of college going indicates high
requirements with high cost, there is still a
prevalent "go away" college message, even with a
low-income, minority student population.
Vatican II: Caused the general and religious
Catholic populations to question their roles as
Catholics and the role played by Catholic
schools in the United States (Grace, 2003).
White Flight: Previous European populations
that initially inhabited ethnic neighborhoods
and attended Catholic schools and moved out
of urban and centralized areas and into the
American, middle-class suburbs (Baker &
Riordan, 1998).
The Field of College Going: "...the web of
opportunities and structural arrangements
which is shaped by secondary and
postsecondary institutions" (McDonough et al.,
2000, 372)
Nine Principals of College Going Cultures:
College Talk, Clear Expectations, Info. and
Resources, Comprehensive Counseling, Testing
and Curriculum, Faculty Involvement, Family
Involvement, College Partnerships,
Articulation (McClafferty et al., 2002).
The historical context of the research site
indicates that the adjoining parish served as a
bridge towards access to the Catholic school.
However, since particular parishes were
designated for specific populations, the
changing social demographics over time
shifted the racial/ethnic/religious composition
of the student/staff population.
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