restricted access Graduating Class: Disadvantaged Students Crossing the Bridge of Higher Education (review)
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Reviewed by
Latty L. Goodwin. Graduating Class: Disadvantaged Students Crossing the Bridge of Higher Education. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2006. 226 pp. Paper: $24.95. ISBN 0-7914-6742-2.

Theories and empirical research on understanding issues of access to college and the college experience of underrepresented and low-income students have increased significantly in recent years. Most recently, the focus has been on the entry point to higher education (or admissions) and the first-year transition. Graduating Class by Latty L. Goodwin continues to add to the current understanding, yet is unique in that she looks at the exit point and outcomes of diverse students who have beaten the odds at an elite, Ivy League university, including their lives after graduation.

This book represents the second part of Goodwin's research, undertaken four years later with the same group of students, who, according to Goodwin, "have paid the full price of crossing and now face the exit ramp with enhanced intellectual resources but few prospects of employment" (p. xix). The first part of this longitudinal study entitled, Resilient Spirits: Disadvantaged Students Making It at an Elite University (2002) describes the beginning of the students' experiences with higher education.

Goodwin's book (189 pages of text, plus appendices, reference list, and index) provides evidence that, even though the affirmative action debate was recently "settled" in the Supreme Court, universities must still grapple with defining who is deserving, meritorious, and qualified for admissions. The book parallels other published works on college access and preparation such as McDonough (1997) and Valenzuela (1999).

Goodwin follows a cohort of students and qualitatively chronicles their experiences through interviews. She categorizes the students as "the Pleasers," "the Searchers," and "the Skeptics," or according to the characteristic of immigration status and the generations or number of years in the United States. These characteristics were part of their socialization toward college, family, and life goals. The stories of six students are highlighted.

One of Goodwin's goals is to put faces on college graduates from diverse backgrounds—backgrounds that disadvantage them at elite universities. Another is to understand how they navigated their college years and how they perceive their future opportunities. Goodwin does a good job of keeping the students' voices as the central focus.

The theoretical information is largely contained in the introductions and conclusions to each chapter. Two broad questions this study addressed were: (a) How did this group of disadvantaged students experience and eventually succeed, at an elite university?, and (b) What are the immediate outcomes after graduation from an elite university for this group of disadvantaged students?

Chapters 1–5 describes Ivy University (a pseudonym), its campus culture, academic challenges, and the pressure of college. She refers the reader to her 2002 work for more detail about the campus; however, this book would have benefited from such basic campus information as the size of the undergraduate population and the percentage of underrepresented students. These statistics would have been relevant to her finding that aspects of college life where the students felt marginalized were far more challenging than academics. They expressed concerns about low numbers of minority faculty and staff, financial aid, social organizations, and condescending faculty and staff.

The strongest parts of the book are Chapters 6 and 7, which focus on students' resiliency and the outcomes of their education. Chapter 6 analyzes the students' response to adversity and how it impacted their identity formation. True, the students reported academic issues but, more frequently, commented on such external pressures as family and relationship issues, financial need that required working long hours at low-paying jobs, race issues, health concerns, and self-esteem issues.

The author applies some educational, psychological, and human communication theories to frame the students' response to adversity. Yet she should also account for the students' precollege dispositions toward challenge. Some students showed more positive outlooks and socializations while others had more negative perspectives. It is difficult to account for these dispositions qualitatively and understand how the campus environment influenced them. [End Page 325]

Chapter 7 describes what graduation means to the students and what they have acquired in their education. Goodwin portrays...


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