Derailed : factors influencing college and career decisions of high school students in a deindustrialized rural community
High schools in the United States are charged with preparing students for citizenship and the knowledge, skills and experiences for success in postsecondary education and work. This study examines the problem of how to prepare students for college and work in a rural deindustrialized working-class community where jobs and careers that allow for upward economic mobility are scarce. This ethnographic case study sought to understand the influences and interplay of school-based and non-school-based factors that influenced students' decisions as they graduated and made the transition to college and work. Participants were two generational groups of alumni from working class families in the same high school. The first group was comprised of those who graduated in the decade that followed the closure of the railroad in Livingston, Montana in 1985. The second group was comprised of those who graduated a generation later, 20-30 years after deindustrialization. The study found that the economic restructuring that occurred a generation after the deindustrialization altered the factors that affected the transition from high school to college and work for children in working class families. Financial stress and financial instability weighed more heavily on the present generation. College was seen as an investment in the 1985-1995 generational group, whereas college is a gamble for the 2005-2015 group. The 2005-2015 working class group saw themselves as "too rich" for grants, but "too poor" to afford college. While parent expectations for educational attainment remain the same for all participants, the latter group has fewer community ties and a greater reliance on educators in the high school. The study concludes with recommendations that include interventions in the areas of college and career counseling, an examination of rural college and career readiness, critical pedagogical and collective impact approaches. The study calls upon school leadership to articulate competing discourses that shape educational practice and policy, and to be informed by the awareness that students' subjective experiences of their lives are embedded within economic, political and social structures, as they attempt to intervene in the lives of young adults who will enter a precarious labor market.