The Three Stages of College Choice, Critical Race Theory, and the Black Senior

Updated Jun 21, 2016

This summer I am participating in a Critical Race theory (CRT) doctoral course. Critical Race Theory, founded by Dr. Derrick Bell, is a theoretical framework in the social sciences that recognizes that racism is embedded in the system of American society.

Naturally I’ve begun to reflect on and analyze my own experiences, research interest, and aspirations. One particular research interest is African-American students’ college access.

Through my own research I’ve come upon Hossler and Gallagher’s three phases of college choice in their 1987 article, “Studying Student College Choice: A Three-Phase model and the Implications for Policymakers.” The three phases of college choice are predisposition, search, and choice.

In the predisposition phase, students make the determination whether they would like to attend college. Factors such as socio-economic status, parent encouragement and support, extracurricular activities, and pre-college curriculum aid in determining a student’s ability to attend college.

In the search phase, the student begins to gather information about higher education institutions.

The final phase, choice, is when the student decides which institution to attempt to attend.

The higher education system must be aware of how racism, in particular institutional racism, influences this process. Institutionalized racism is defined as the unconscious or conscious implementation of law, policies, and programs targeted at minoritized communities to limit their access and upward mobility.

The education system in the United States was built from the perspective of the White male. From this perspective, admissions tests, curriculum, requirements, and financial aid were geared toward this demographic. In addition, who has access to the information needed to enroll, receive funding, matriculate and graduate is geared to this dominate demographic.

Institutionalized racism influences the socio-economic status of families of color, which hinders the ability of parents to finance their children’s college education and activities that would increase their knowledge of their child. Institutionalized racism could be how high school counselors influence who is recommended and enrolled in college prep courses and who gains access to college admissions opportunities.

Institutionalized racism influences who is invited to college fairs and who is provided the information that is distributed from them.

As a doctoral student, Hossler and Gallagher’s college choice process accurately describes the experiences of high school seniors. However, we must analyze and problematize from a Critical Race Theory lens how the college choice process is influenced still today by Institutionalized racism and is hindering the access to college of so many Black students.

Keeley Copridge is a second-year doctoral student in the Higher Education and Student Affairs program at Indiana University Bloomington.