For sociology and Chicano/Latino studies associate professor Cynthia Feliciano, studying
the relationship of inequality and education is personal.
"As an undergrad at Boston, I remember looking around and thinking why aren't there more people like me here?" she says. The native New Yorker says the pool of her minority student colleagues grew even smaller in graduate school when she travelled across the country to attend graduate school at UCLA.
"It's not a West or East coast problem - it's a national issue. Access to educational opportunities intersects directly with race and ethnicity," she says. "Youth of color are often from low income households, a challenge that hinders their opportunity to pursue higher education and break free from the poverty cycle."
With a newly awarded $468,000 grant, she intends to do something about it. Working with Leticia Oseguera, education assistant professor, she will study key factors that have helped some poverty stricken youth obtain full time successful salaried careers while others, faced with the same possible outcomes, have not.
"Based on previous research, we know that career success and higher incomes rely heavily on obtaining a post-secondary education," she says. "We want to examine the common factors that prevent low-income students from making the transition to higher education in hopes of learning how some succeed in overcoming barriers and others do not."
Their study is part of a larger five-year study being conducted by the University of California's All Campus Consortium on Research for Diversity (UC ACCORD).
Information collected by UC ACCORD found that for California's class of 2006, only 55 out of every 100 students ended up graduating and only 27 out of every 100 entered community college or a university the following fall. The statistics were worst in schools attended by low-income students of color.
Using data from the Nation Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health that spans the 14-year educational and career decisions of low-income minorities, Feliciano and Oseguera will determine the trajectories and factors that lead some to higher education and upward mobility while others stayed behind.
The study is being funded by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Special Initiative, "Breaking the Intergenerational Cycle of Poverty through Post-Secondary Education." The foundation plans to use UC ACCORD's comprehensive findings to create targeted programs aimed at helping low income and minority populations succeed through education - an outcome with which Feliciano is particularly pleased.
"I'm glad to finally be able to have an opportunity to study these questions in-depth and make an impact in the process."
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