Background characteristics and educational aspirations of rural eighth graders

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Higher Education


John A. Centra


Rural education, Career choice, Background characteristics, Aspirations, Eighth graders

Subject Categories



Identified discrepancies between students' program placement and educational aspirations raises concerns about how students make educational and occupational choices. The increasingly early age at which students must make critical curricular and program choices suggests investigating factors related to student educational aspiration. The study investigated the relationship between students' educational aspirations and selected background variables of students and their parents, and how students who are "undecided" about their educational aspirations compare to those students who have specific educational aspirations.

Data were collected from school records and from students' and parents' responses to an eleven-item survey. A pilot study was conducted to test the instrument's reliability and validity, and the survey administration. The survey administration was conducted in the spring of 1995 in eight school districts in a rural, upstate New York county. A total of 860 surveys were distributed, and 469 students (278 females and 191 males) returned the surveys for a response rate of 54.53%. Forty-eight of the respondents (26 females and 22 males) responded "Haven't decided yet" on the question regarding their educational aspiration.

Multiple regression analysis indicated the best predictors of student educational aspiration were the parent's aspiration for the child, academic achievement, the extent to which students thought planning/goal setting was important, and mother's educational level. Chi-square analysis revealed significant associations between students' educational aspiration and these four predictor variables when comparing the "undecided" and "decided" students. Chi-square analysis showed significant associations between the students' educational aspiration and the following predictor variables for "decided" students: fathers' educational level; mothers' socioeconomic status; household head; gender; and the influence of other school staff members. Non-significant variables included influence of counselors, teachers, and the "Home & Careers" course; ethnicity/race; students' perception of parents' influence; and fathers' socioeconomic level.

The findings suggest that schools facilitate students' recognition of their abilities, skills, talents, and interests, toward student success in setting realistic and optimal postsecondary educational aspirations. The results provide base-line information upon which schools can plan and implement programs to address inconsistencies, trends, and identified needs. Finally, the study points to the need to gain a more in-depth understanding of the relationship between and the influence of the variables selected and students' educational aspirations.


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