Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Kathleen Cauley, PhD

Second Advisor

Jesse Senechal, PhD

Third Advisor

Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, PhD

Fourth Advisor

Avril Smart, PhD


There is considerable research evidence suggesting that low-income, racial minority students value education and aspire for postsecondary educational attainment (Bloom, 2007; Destin & Oyserman, 2009; Wigfield & Eccles, 2002). However, their performance in school often does not align with those values and ambitions, as these students tend to underachieve in comparison with their higher-income, non-minority peers (Reardon, 2011), with particular gaps found in those attending schools of concentrated poverty (Rowan, 2011). This gap between educational ambition and attainment suggests that the experience of living and going to school in a high-poverty context could be related to the motivational processes driving these students to pursue college. Using a conceptual framework overlapping expectancy-value theory and possible selves, the present multiple case study of six Urban Public High School (UPHS) students aspiring to four-year college explored how they made decisions about pursuing their postsecondary ambitions. Participants’ descriptions of their pursuit of college revealed themes related to who they did and did not want to become in the future, and outlined their expectancies, values, and perceptions of costs associated with becoming a first-generation college student. Socializers in and out of school influenced students’ perceptions of possible selves and decision-making processes. Results revealed how avoidance possible selves motivated students’ pursuit of college, how social incongruence among peers at UPHS made the pursuit more challenging, and how students with high expectancies and values for going to college still sometimes doubted whether they would ultimately go. Theoretical and practical implications, as well as limitations of the study, are discussed.


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