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The decision as to whether or not Marisela goes away for college means that the adults in her life need to be willing to work together, communicate, and help Marisela make the best decision for her future. Each adult directly involved in Marisela’s life has a unique perspective on what they think she should do, what her strengths and challenges are, and how best to support her. So, how can these adults come together to create a beneficial dialogue and form a support system around Marisela during this challenging time? By looking at the five guiding principles below, we are able to see the bigger picture of Marisela’s decision whether to stay close to home or go away to college.

Guiding Principles

Guiding Principle 1: Late adolescence is an important developmental period, when young adults make choices that influence the rest of
their lives
As adolescents end their high school years, they confront choices about college, employment, and moving out of the family home. Advances in brain development enable young adults to manage their own learning, solve problems maturely, and develop enduring identities. Maintaining strong ties to family is important for the adolescent and emerging adulthood years. In fact, parent‒child relationships are highly related to adolescent health and well-being. At the same time, institutions like schools, community spaces, and peers continue to exert an influence over choices adolescents make. In this case, Marisela is at a crossroads about whether to leave to pursue her academic dreams or stay at home to care for and support her family, whom she loves profoundly and from whom she derives support and strength. 

Guiding Principle 2: Family engagement is a shared responsibility. 
Understanding that family engagement is a shared responsibility means that everyone involved in a student’s life is accountable for a student’s success, particularly in times of transition. In this case, Marisela’s mother, her teachers, her guidance counselor, and a college advisor have seemingly had no opportunities to meet or discuss with Marisela her wishes and desires. Perhaps a good first step is for the guidance counselor or teacher to bring the different adults in Marisela’s life together, with Marisela, to talk about the different possibilities for her future. 

Guiding Principle 3: Family engagement matters across settings.
Family engagement takes place everywhere students learn, including in college. It is not clear, however, whether high school and college outreach programs have provided Claudia with the information and guidance she needs to support Marisela’s college aspirations. Perhaps Claudia could travel with Marisela to visit Johns Hopkins or Ricardo Vargas could visit Marisela’s home to talk about what Johns Hopkins has to offer, how Marisela and her mother could stay connected while she was away, and how Marisela will be safe in the community. Furthermore, one of the biggest concerns Marisela has about traveling far from home is that her younger sisters and brother will not have adequate supervision and homework help after school. How might this tension be reduced if afterschool programs in the community actively reached out to families to let them know about programming options for school-age children and youth?

Guiding Principle 4: Family engagement is continuous across time.
As families, educators, and communities engage in promoting student success, creating a sense of continuity of standards and expectations across time―from the early childhood years, into elementary and middle school, through high school and to the end of college―is essential for obtaining positive outcomes. For example, families are increasingly being given access to ways to save for college as soon as children are born, early childhood programs are instilling college as a goal for young children, and many programs in elementary and middle school start working with families around preparing for college. In this way, family engagement being continuous across time means guiding families toward college from birth on. 

Guiding Principle 5: Family engagement is important for supporting young adults in finding the right college match. 
It is important for students to find the right college “fit” or “match”. Factors like cost, location, size, and academic rigor, all contribute to whether a college is a good match for a student. Undermatching is the term use to describe students who attend colleges that are too easy for them. In this case, Marisela is at risk for undermatching as she balances her family responsibilities with her dreams of attending a high-ranking, rigorous premedical program. When high schools and colleges engage families in the process of helping students find the right college – and help them actively participate in the process ―students will be more likely to make the decision that is the right fit for them both academically and psychologically. 


Reflection Questions:
In the following questions, we ask you to consider how to connect the people and institutions in this case. Keep the five guiding principles in mind as you respond.

  1. What are Claudia's views and values about where Marisela goes to college? How do Claudia's ambitions for Marisela and dependence on Marisela affect her feelings about college?
  2. How does Claudia understand her influence over Marisela's decision?
  3. How has or can the school emphasize the value of higher education and “going away to college” to Claudia (i.e., visits to college, speaking with admissions counselors)?
  4. What role does the community have in supporting Latino students' aspirations for higher education?
  5. Who has Marisela expressed her feelings to? How could school personnel create an atmosphere for discussing these feelings?
  6. How can Linda, the biology teacher, relate better to Claudia about Marisela's dilemma? What has her communication with Claudia been like so far?
  7. How well does Ricardo, the admissions counselor from Johns Hopkins, understand Marisela's home situation? How is he sensitive or insensitive to her home situation? What could he do to help Marisela?
  8. How can John, the guidance counselor, be more helpful?
  9. How do the data in the case help you understand the larger context in which this case exists? 
  10. Using the College Results Online Calculator, take a look at the ethnic makeup and graduation rates of students in the universities Marisela is considering. Do these data help you come to a different conclusion? How does the rigor of the college match with Marisela’s academic achievement?
  11. What might be some of the barriers for high schools and colleges to provide the information and guidance parents need? How can they be addressed?
  12. Think about your community. What community resources can be mobilized to complement the work of high schools in guiding families about preparing their teens for college and career?
  13. You are asked to prepare a set of tips for parents like Claudia about getting their teens ready for college. What five tips would you recommend?
  14. What would you recommend for Marisela?

Expert Commentary:
Want to hear what others think about the case? Click below to read two expert commentaries that will guide and inspire your own thinking: 

Commentary by Sylvia Acevedo

Commentary by Concha Delgado-Gaitan

Commentary by Irina Todorova


Related Resources:

College Results Online
College Results Online (CRO) is an interactive Web tool designed to provide policymakers, counselors, parents, students, and others with information about college graduation rates for nearly any four-year college or university in the country.

For Some Immigrant Students, Culture Bears on College Choice
As part of a series of stories examining the challenges facing disadvantaged students who show academic potential, this article from Education Week chronicles the struggles of many first-generation students whose parents want them to live at home during college. 

“For the First Time I Understand What It Takes for My Own Child to Graduate”: Engaging Immigrant Families Around Data
Providing parents with training on how to understand student data and utilize online student-monitoring systems is a powerful way to help immigrant families better understand what it takes for students to stay on the path toward college. 

Fulfilling America’s Future: Latinas in the U.S., 2015
This report from Patricia Gándara provides an important snapshot of Latina participation in key areas such as education, health, labor, and the economy, including a discussion of college enrollment and completion. 

Helping Families Pave the Path to College: Supporting the Developmental Processes That Facilitate College Readiness
This article outlines how teachers, counselors, and other educators can engage families in the college process by communicating with families regularly, inviting families to be involved in college exploration activities, creating opportunities for families to connect and build networks, and facilitating family‒youth discussions about college. 

Hispanic Educational Progress Timeline From 1990 to 2015
This timeline shows educational progress among Hispanics since 1990.

Pathways to College Online Library
The Pathways to College Online Library is a searchable database of publications, research reports, websites, and other resources for researchers, education leaders, and policymakers working to improve college and career readiness.

The Passage to Adulthood: Challenges of Late Adolescence
Nicole Zarrett and Jacquelynne Eccles outline the major developmental challenges likely to affect overall well-being during adolescence and emerging adulthood, and they discuss the personal and social assets needed to facilitate a successful passage through adolescence and into adulthood.

Transitions From High School to College
This article in the Spring 2013 issue of The Future of Children, dedicated to postsecondary education in the United States, looks at the state of college readiness among high school students, the effectiveness of programs in place to help them transition to college, and efforts to improve those transitions.


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Published by Harvard Family Research Project