Social capital as a mitigator of the effects of low socioeconomic status on achievement and postsecondary education

Jeanne Marinaro Gradone, Fordham University


This study, based on the research of Coleman (1987), examined the effect of social capital on high school students' achievement and post-high school education expectations. Social capital is present in the intergenerational relationships that exist in families and surrounding communities; it becomes an important resource for students and facilitates certain accomplishments that would otherwise be impossible. This study, using the survey information and standardized test scores from the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988, focused on the extent to which social capital within the family is augmented by the school in relation to mathematics growth and achievement and likelihood to attend college. Analyses were based on public and Catholic school students' perceptions of social capital, mathematics growth and achievement, college desire and preparation, and background characteristics. Regression analysis, chi-square testing, analysis of variance, and Scheffe a posteriori comparisons supported the research hypothesis: perceived social capital in the home and school is a small but significant factor in mathematics achievement, desire to attend college, and subsequent preparation activities. Students perceive their schools as communities where teachers are interested in them and offer help. Rural students reported the greatest amount of school help, but least desire to attend college. Differences between public and Catholic school students favored the Catholic sector, but were inconclusive because of the disparity in sample sizes. Further testing on students of low socioeconomic status showed a significant correlation between mathematics achievement and social capital available from the school: those who believed that teachers were interested in them scored higher and showed greater mathematics improvement between tenth and twelfth grade and those who received greater help from teachers and counselors were more likely to attend college. The results of this study suggest that schools as communities of support can influence students to achieve and continue formal education beyond high school. Schools as social structures are in a position to provide students with intergenerational relationships characterized by interest, help, and concern. Implications are especially significant for low socioeconomic students whose parents have the least personal resources.

Subject Area

School administration|Secondary education

Recommended Citation

Gradone, Jeanne Marinaro, "Social capital as a mitigator of the effects of low socioeconomic status on achievement and postsecondary education" (1997). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9809008.