When Perception Becomes Reality

Survey reveals what Mexican-American students expect to achieve does not coincide with their goals.

The perception of barriers prevents Mexican-American students from achieving their ultimate educational goals, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Missouri.

“The data tells us this group is at risk of not fulfi lling their dreams,” said co-author Dr. Lisa Flores, associate professor of educational, school and counseling psychology at the University of Missouri’s College of Education. “Mexican-American students have high aspirations in terms of educational goals. But what they actually achieve, and expect to achieve, is lower than what they aspire to.”

Flores surveyed 186 Mexican-American high school students with an average age of 16.14 years in a Texas-Mexico border town. Flores says she believes her study is the first to fi nd a direct link between perception and results. Perceived barriers include lack of support among family and community to continue education, family responsibilities and fi nances.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 57 percent of Mexican-American students graduate from high school. Only 11 percent receive college degrees.

The perception that students are facing obstacles appeared to be enough to lower – or eliminate – their aspirations of seeking a college degree, Flores says.

David Aguayo has witnessed this. The 24-year-old University of Missouri graduate student immigrated to the U.S. from Michoacán, Mexico, with his family as a 10-year-old. In 2007, he created a mentorship program called Alba, designed to encourage Latino high school students to pursue higher-education degrees. Despite high hopes, participation in the program has dwindled from five students to one.

“My assumption being from immigrant families is that the parents are hesitant. Encouraging, but hesitant. They want their kids to be committed, but maybe parents are afraid of the entire responsibility entailed with going to college,” Aguayo says.

High school senior Jasmine Lopez is Alba’s lone remaining participant. Lopez, 17, says she worries about maintaining her grades, paying for college and whether to stay with her family or move on to study fashion and psychology in college.

Flores’ study urges high school guidance counselors to take a bigger role. “Start talking with students about things they think might get in the way of achieving their dreams educationally,” she says.

“Work with them to fi nd ways to overcome them. Just because students anticipate barriers doesn’t mean those barriers are necessarily going to be detrimental.”

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