Parental discussions boost university aspirations

November 4, 2016

Yolanda Andrews, Stuart Watson and Sarah Seddon are working to improve aspirations of high school students.New research has demonstrated the importance of parents chatting with their children about university for developing aspirations towards future study.

Murdoch University researchers investigated the importance of parental conversations as part of a project to counteract the substantial under-representation of low socio-economic status (SES) individuals at Australian universities.

“Only around 15 per cent of 25 to 34 year olds living in the south-west corridor of metropolitan Perth have been to university, which is around half the level of the rest of Perth,” said Chief Investigator and Murdoch University Provost Professor Taggart.

“We are very interested in finding ways to build upon our young people’s aspirations, and developing strategies and long term programs that ensure greater participation in tertiary education in this region.

“This research demonstrates that parents discussing university with their teenagers can have a positive impact on their children’s aspirations for university.”

The researchers surveyed 548 high school students from 12 schools participating in the Murdoch Aspirations and Pathways for University (MAP4U), a federally funded project to grow and support university aspirations in the region.

The majority of participating schools were below average socio-economic status (SES) and almost 40 per cent of the students reported that they would be the first in their families to attend university.

“It is well established that parental involvement is a strong predictor of eventual higher education participation,” said research project manager Dr Stuart Watson.

“However, we were interested in the effect of students simply discussing university study with their parents in a region where the predominant education culture is not university-focused.”

The students were surveyed about their aspirations to attend university, their views on their own academic potential and their satisfaction in school.

This study clearly showed the importance of parents’ discussions about university with their children while they are in high school.

“Our study found that discussions with parents about university are a particularly important way to broaden horizons for children who attend low SES schools, and these discussions can support aspirations towards university,” said Dr Watson.

The researchers found that the role played by parents in university exposure was more important for students’ university aspiration in low SES schools than in higher SES schools in the same region.

“Students attending lower SES schools reported fewer instances of school-related university exposure, which may explain why parents play a critical compensatory role for these students,” said Dr Watson.

“Interestingly, we also found parental discussions about university were important for students’ expectations to transition to university if they attended a higher SES school located in a disadvantaged region.

“A student’s understanding of university pathways is informed by the prevailing education culture of the region, but parents who talk about university with their children seem to be able to counteract the social and cultural elements of non-university participation in their local community.”

Murdoch University is examining ways to help parents to gain more exposure and knowledge of university to support university aspirations and expectations of high school students in the region.

The study was published in the Issues in Educational Research Journal, which can be accessed at www.iier.org.au/iier26/watson.pdf.

 

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