Lost in Transition: The Implications of Social Capital for Higher Education Access

51 Pages Posted: 20 Mar 2011 Last revised: 11 Apr 2011

See all articles by Omari Scott Simmons

Omari Scott Simmons

George Washington University Law School

Date Written: March 14, 2011


The dearth of college counseling in the nation’s public schools derails many students as they transition between high school and college. Compared to their more privileged peers with similar academic qualifications, low-income, minority, first-generation, and other vulnerable students are less likely to attend college. When these vulnerable students pursue higher education, they are more likely to attend vocational schools, community colleges, for-profit universities, and less selective four-year colleges. This phenomenon highlights a sorting process in the act of choosing among higher education options that further perpetuates socio-economic inequality and limits the nation’s global competitiveness.

Generally, policymakers employ two approaches to promote college access among vulnerable students: (i) focusing on K-12 academic preparation to close achievement gaps that have a downstream impact on college access; and (ii) preserving college discretion for diversity admissions as well as providing financial aid to needy students. These approaches, however, yield only marginal returns because they fail to address social capital deficits (SCDs). Social capital reflects the ability of individuals to secure benefits through familial and extra-familial networks. Vulnerable students overwhelmingly lack access to social networks that provide valuable information to navigate the complex college admissions and financial aid processes. And the nation’s public schools exacerbate this problem by not providing adequate college counseling support to their most needy students. Nationwide there are approximately 460 students for every high school counselor. In larger school districts, this ratio can rise to more than 700 students per counselor. These alarming statistics threaten to undermine the Obama ad-ministration’s goal to lead the world in college graduates by 2020. Reaching this ambitious target inevitably depends on increasing the college-going rates of vulnerable students.

In order to address the SCDs that limit higher education access for vulnerable students, this Article proposes an important solution that has been ignored by legal scholars - reforming the college counseling function in American public schools. This Article provides a framework to guide future legislation and reforms targeting SCDs, particularly the future reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Keywords: education, school, reform, no child left behind, civil rights, admissions, diversity, social capital, social justice, cooperative federalism, college, counseling, instruction, higher education, democratic,

Suggested Citation

Simmons, Omari Scott, Lost in Transition: The Implications of Social Capital for Higher Education Access (March 14, 2011). Notre Dame Law Review, Vol. 42, 2010, Wake Forest Univ. Legal Studies Paper No. 1785528, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1785528

Omari Scott Simmons (Contact Author)

George Washington University Law School ( email )

United States

Do you have negative results from your research you’d like to share?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics