Examining an Urban District’s College-Going Culture: The Role of Magnet School Designation

  • H. Kenny NienhusserEmail author
  • Jillian Ives


Inequitable access to postsecondary education opportunities continues to persist in many highly segregated, under-resourced urban school districts. This study examined the college-going culture of three urban public secondary schools located in one district, with a close examination of the role magnet and nonmagnet school designations had in shaping college-going culture. Guided by the work of Corwin and Tierney (2007), this investigation examined college-going culture, including magnet and nonmagnet disparities, along the following dimensions: (a) academic momentum, (b) understanding of how college plans develop, (c) clear mission statement, and (d) comprehensive college counseling services. This study identified differences in the college-going culture of magnet versus nonmagnet schools—as evidenced by the availability of Advanced Placement courses, the level of expectations established by institutional agents who work in the school, and the presence of wide-ranging college services that are embedded into the fabric of the school. This study links college access disparities to court decisions that may have facilitated social inequalities. Implications for policy, research, and practice in developing stronger college-going cultures in urban school districts are discussed.


Urban High schools College-going culture College access 



H. Kenny Nienhusser would like to acknowledge the research assistance of Lisa Wisniewski.


  1. Achinstein, B., Curry, M. W., & Ogawa, R. T. (2015). (Re)labeling social status: Promises and tensions in developing a college-going culture for Latina/o youth in an urban high school. American Journal of Education,121(3), 311–345. Scholar
  2. Aldana, U. S. (2014). Moving beyond the college-preparatory high school model to a college-going culture in urban Catholic high schools. Journal of Catholic Education,17(2), 131–153.Google Scholar
  3. American School Counselor Association. (n.d.). State school counseling mandates and legislation. Retrieved from
  4. André-Bechely, L. (2005). Public school choice at the intersection of voluntary integration and not-so-good neighborhood schools: Lessons from parents’ experiences. Educational Administration Quarterly,41(2), 267–305. Scholar
  5. Archbald, D. A. (2004). School choice, magnet schools, and the liberation model: An empirical study. Sociology of Education,77(4), 283–310. Scholar
  6. Balfanz, R., & Legters, N. (2004). Locating the dropout crisis: Where are they located? Who attends them?. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Center for Social Organization of Schools.Google Scholar
  7. Bernak, F., & Chung, R. C. (2005). Advocacy as a critical role for urban school counselors: Working toward equity and social justice. Professional School Counseling,8(3), 196–202.Google Scholar
  8. Bosworth, K., Convertino, C., & Hurwitz, J. T. (2014). Common purpose and different approaches to support college-going in five Southwestern districts. American Secondary Education,43(1), 4–24.Google Scholar
  9. Carey, R. L. (2016). “Keep that in mind…you’re gonna go to college”: Family influence on the college going processes of Black and Latino high school boys. The Urban Review,48(5), 718–742. Scholar
  10. Castillo, L. G., Conoley, C. W., Cepeda, L. M., Ivy, K. K., & Archuleta, D. J. (2010). Mexican American adolescents’ perceptions of a pro-college culture. Journal of Hispanic Higher Education,9(1), 61–72. Scholar
  11. Cobb, C. D., Bifulco, R., & Bell, C. (2009). Evaluation of Connecticut’s interdistrict magnet schools. Retrieved from ERIC database. (ED527481)Google Scholar
  12. Connecticut State Department of Education. (n.d.). Connecticut education data and research (CEDaR). Retrieved from
  13. Convertino, C., & Graboski-Bauer, A. (2017). College readiness versus college worthiness: Examining the role of principal beliefs on college readiness initiatives in an urban U.S. high school. The Urban Review,50(1), 45–68. Scholar
  14. Corwin, Z. B., & Tierney, W. G. (2007). Getting there-and beyond. Building a culture of college-going in high schools. Retrieved from USC Center for Higher Education and Policy Analysis website:
  15. Dougherty, J. (2012). Shopping for schools: How public education and private housing shaped suburban Connecticut. Journal of Urban History,38(2), 205–224. Scholar
  16. Dougherty, J., Wanzer, J., & Ramsay, C. (2009). Sheff v. O’Neill: Weak desegregation remedies and strong disincentives in Connecticut, 1996–2008. In C. Smrekar & E. Goldring (Eds.), From the courtroom to the classroom: The shifting landscape of school desegregation (pp. 103–127). Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.Google Scholar
  17. Engberg, M. E., & Gilbert, A. J. (2014). The counseling opportunity structure: Examining correlates of four-year college-going rates. Research in Higher Education,55(3), 219–244. Scholar
  18. Engstrom, C., & Tinto, V. (2010). Access without support is not opportunity. Change,40(1), 46–50. Scholar
  19. Farmer-Hinton, R. (2011). On being college prep: Examining the implementation of a “college for all” mission in an urban charter school. The Urban Review,43(5), 567–596. Scholar
  20. Frankenberg, E., & Lee, C. (2002). Race in American public schools: Rapidly resegregating school districts. Retrieved from
  21. Gilfillan, B. H. (2017). School counselors and college readiness counseling. Professional School Counseling,21(1), 1–10. Scholar
  22. Gooch, J. K. (2004). Fenced in: Why Sheff v. O’Neill can’t save Connecticut’s inner city students. Quinnipiac Law Review,22(3), 395–453.Google Scholar
  23. Griffin, K. A., Allen, W. R., Kimura-Walsh, E., & Yamamura, E. K. (2007). Those who left, those who stayed: Exploring the educational opportunities of high-achieving Black and Latina/o students at magnet and nonmagnet Los Angeles high schools (2001–2002). Educational Studies,42(3), 229–247. Scholar
  24. Griffin, K. A., del Pilar, W., McIntosh, K., & Griffin, A. (2012). “Oh, of course I’m going to go to college”: Understanding how habitus shapes the college choice process of Black immigrant students. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education,5(2), 96–111. Scholar
  25. Hartford Public Schools. (n.d.a). Cultivating equity and excellence: 20152020. Retrieved from revs_082415.pdf
  26. Hartford Public Schools. (n.d.b). 20112016 strategic operating plan. Retrieved from
  27. Hill, L. D. (2012). Environmental threats to college counseling strategies in urban high schools: Implications for student preparation for college transitions. The Urban Review,44(1), 36–59. Scholar
  28. Holland, N. E., & Farmer-Hinton, R. L. (2009). Leave no schools behind: The importance of a college culture in urban public high schools. The High School Journal,92(3), 24–43. Scholar
  29. Horn, L. J., Chen, X., & Adelman, C. (1998). Toward resiliency: At-risk students who make it to college. Washington, DC: Office of Educational Research and Improvement.Google Scholar
  30. Hossler, D., & Stage, F. K. (1992). Family and high school experience influences on the postsecondary educational plans of ninth-grade students. American Educational Research Journal,29(2), 425–451. Scholar
  31. Howard, T. C. (2001). Telling their side of the story: African-American students’ perceptions of culturally relevant teaching. The Urban Review,33(2), 131–150. Scholar
  32. Hubert, T. L. (2014). Learners of mathematics: High school students’ perspectives of culturally relevant mathematics pedagogy. Journal of African American Studies,18(3), 324–336. Scholar
  33. Huerta, A. H., McDonough, P. M., & Allen, W. R. (2018). “You can go to college”: Employing a developmental perspective to examine how young men of color construct a college-going identity. The Urban Review,50(5), 713–734. Scholar
  34. Kauffman, M. (2018, February 15). Suit challenges Sheff magnet-school lottery process. Hartford Courant. Retrieved from
  35. Kenty-Drane, J. L. (2009). Early isolation: Racial and economic segregation in U.S. public elementary schools. Race, Gender & Class,16(1–2), 45–62.Google Scholar
  36. Knight-Diop, M. G. (2010). Closing the gap: Enacting care and facilitating Black students’ educational access in the creation of a high school college-going culture. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk,15(1–2), 158–172. Scholar
  37. Knight-Manuel, M. G., Marciano, J. E., Wilson, M., Jackson, I., Vernikoff, L., Zuckermann, K. G., et al. (2016). “It’s all possible”: Urban educators’ perspectives on creating a culturally relevant, schoolwide, college-going culture for Black and Latino male students. Urban Education,54(1), 1–30. Scholar
  38. Liou, D. D., Antrop-Gonzalez, R., & Cooper, R. (2009). Unveiling the promise of community cultural wealth to sustaining Latina/o students’ college-going information networks. Educational Studies,45(6), 534–555. Scholar
  39. Lleras, C. (2008). Race, racial concentration, and the dynamics of educational inequality across urban and suburban schools. American Educational Research Journal,45(4), 886–912. Scholar
  40. Marciano, J. E. (2016). “We’re friends, we have to be in this together”: Examining the role of culturally relevant peer interactions in urban youth’s college readiness and access. The Urban Review,49(1), 169–187. Scholar
  41. Marsh, L. T. S., & Noguera, P. A. (2018). Beyond stigma and stereotypes: An ethnographic study on the effects of school-imposed labeling on Black males in an urban charter school. The Urban Review,50(3), 447–477. Scholar
  42. Martinez, M., & Klopott, S. (2005). The link between high school reform and college access and success for low-income and minority youth. Washington, DC: American Youth Policy Forum and Pathways to College Network. Retrieved from
  43. McClafferty, K. A., McDonough, P. M., & Nuñez, A. (2002, April). What is a college culture? Facilitating college preparation through organizational change. Paper presented at the meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, LA.Google Scholar
  44. McDermott, K. A., Bruno, G., & Varghese, A. (2002). Have Connecticut’s desegregation policies produced desegregation? Equity & Excellence in Education,35(1), 18–27. Scholar
  45. McDonough, P. M. (1997). Choosing colleges: How social class and schools structure opportunity. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  46. McHugh, M. L. (2012). Interrater reliability: The kappa statistic. Biochemia Medica,22(3), 276–282. Scholar
  47. McKillip, M. E. M., Godfrey, K. E., & Rawls, A. (2012). Rules of engagement: Building a college-going culture in an urban school. Urban Education,48(4), 529–556. Scholar
  48. McMiller, D. L. (2000). Public opinion and school desegregation in Hartford. Connecticut. Equity & Excellence in Education,33(2), 68–80. Scholar
  49. Meeks, L. F., Meeks, W. A., & Warren, C. A. (2000). Racial desegregation: Magnet schools, vouchers, privatization, and home schooling. Education and Urban Society,33(1), 88–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Merriam, S. B. (1998). Qualitative research and case study applications in education (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  51. Miles, M., & Huberman, A. M. (1994). Qualitative data analysis: An expanded sourcebook (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  52. Mioli, A. L. (2000). Sheff v. O’Neill: The consequences of educational table-scraps for poor urban minority schools. Fordham Urban Law Journal,27(6), 1903–1942.Google Scholar
  53. Mwangi, C. A. G. (2015). (Re)examining the role of family and community in college access and choice: A metasynthesis. The Review of Higher Education,39(1), 123–151. Scholar
  54. National Center for Education Statistics. (2017). Table 214.40: Public elementary and secondary school enrollment, number of schools, and other selected characteristics, by locale: Fall 2012 through fall 2015. Retrieved from
  55. National Center for Education Statistics. (2018). Projections of education statistics to 2026: Forty-fifth edition. Retrieved from
  56. National Student Clearinghouse. (2017). High school benchmarks: National college progression rates. Retrieved from
  57. Oakes, J. (2003). Critical conditions for equity and diversity in college access: Informing policy and monitoring results. Retrieved from
  58. Office of the Federal Register. (1991). Code of federal regulations. Washington, DC: Author.Google Scholar
  59. Orfield, G., & Eaton, S. E. (1996). Dismantling desegregation: The quiet reversal of Brown v. Board of Education. New York, NY: The New Press.Google Scholar
  60. Peak, C. (2018, May 25). Magnets seek “right” (White) suburbanites. New Haven Independent. Retrieved from magnet_schools_racial_isolation/
  61. Perna, L. (2006). Studying college access and choice: a proposed conceptual model. In J. C. Smart (Ed.), Higher education: Handbook of theory and research (pp. 99–157). Dordrecht: Springer. Scholar
  62. Phaneuf, K. M. (2018, May 29). Already deep in debt, Connecticut struggles with extremes of wealth and income. The CT Mirror. Retrieved from
  63. Reid, M. J., & Moore, J. L., III. (2008). College readiness and academic preparation for postsecondary education: Oral histories of first-generation urban college students. Urban Education,43(2), 240–261. Scholar
  64. Rivera-McClutchen, R. L. (2012). Caring in a small urban high school: A complicated success. Urban Education,47(3), 653–680. Scholar
  65. Robinson, K. J., & Roksa, J. (2016). Counselors, information, and high school college-going culture: Inequalities in the college application process. Research in Higher Education,57(7), 845–868. Scholar
  66. Roderick, M., Coca, V., & Nagaoka, J. (2011). Potholes on the road to college: High school effects in shaping urban students’ participation in college application, four-year college enrollment, and college match. Sociology of Education,84(3), 178–211. Scholar
  67. Roderick, M., Nagaoka, J., & Coca, V. (2009). College readiness for all: The challenge for urban high schools. The Future of Children,19(1), 185–210. Scholar
  68. Rodríguez, L. F. (2008). Struggling to recognize their existence: Examining student-adult relationships in the urban high school context. The Urban Review,40(5), 436–543. Scholar
  69. Rosenbaum, J. E., & Becker, K. I. (2011). The early college challenge: Navigating disadvantaged students’ transition to college. American Educator,35(3), 14–39.Google Scholar
  70. Sandefur, G. D., Meier, A. M., & Campbell, M. E. (2006). Family resources, social capital, and college attendance. Social Science Research,35(2), 525–553. Scholar
  71. Savitz-Romer, M. (2012). The gap between influence and efficacy: College readiness training, urban school counselors, and the promotion of equity. Counselor Education and Supervision,51(2), 98–111. Scholar
  72. Snyder, T. D., de Brey, C., & Dillow, S. A. (2016). Digest of education statistics 2015 (NCES 2016-014). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.Google Scholar
  73. Stanton-Salazar, R. D. (1997). A social capital framework for understanding the socialization of racial minority children and youths. Harvard Educational Review,67(1), 1–40. Scholar
  74. Stanton-Salazar, R. D. (2011). A social capital framework for the study of institutional agents and their role in the empowerment of low-status youth. Youth & Society,43(3), 1066–1109. Scholar
  75. Stillisano, J. R., Brown, D. B., Alford, B. L., & Waxman, H. C. (2013). The effects of GO Centers on creating a college culture in urban high schools in Texas. The High School Journal,96(4), 283–301. Scholar
  76. Thomas, J. R. (2018, October 15). Do magnet schools need White students to be great? The CT Mirror. Retrieved from
  77. Thomas, J. R., & Julien, J. G. (2014, December 11). A tale of Fairfield County: Segregation and limited school choice. The CT Mirror. Retrieved from
  78. Thompson, D. (2017, July 5). What on earth is wrong with Connecticut? The Atlantic. Retrieved from
  79. Thorngren, J. M., Nelson, M. D., & Baker, L. J. (2004). School counseling programs: Comparing GEAR UP schools with non-GEAR UP schools. Journal of School Counseling,2(2), 1–35.Google Scholar
  80. United States Census Bureau. (2017). State and county quickfacts. Retrieved from
  81. Welton, A. D., & Martinez, M. A. (2014). Coloring the college pathway: A more culturally responsive approach to college readiness and access for students of color in secondary schools. The Urban Review,46(2), 197–223. Scholar
  82. Welton, A. D., & Williams, M. (2014). Accountability strain, college readiness drain: Sociopolitical tensions involved in maintaining a college-going culture in a high “minority”, high poverty, Texas high school. The High School Journal,98(2), 181–204. Scholar
  83. Wimberly, G. L., & Noeth, R. J. (2004). Schools involving parents in early postsecondary planning: ACT policy report (Rep.). Iowa City, IA: American College Testing.Google Scholar
  84. Yin, R. K. (2013). Case study research: Design and methods (5th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Educational LeadershipUniversity of ConnecticutStorrsUSA

Personalised recommendations