New study shows how social capital can promote college achievement

Oyefuga, E., & Shakeshaft, C. (2023). Social capital and the higher education academic achievement: Using cross-classified multilevel models to understanding the impact of society on educational outcomes. Youth & Society, 55(1), 163–183.

Summarized by Megyn Jasman and Ariel Ervin 

Notes of Interest: 

  • Social capital refers to an individual’s network of relationships and how they, in turn, affect the individual’s outcomes.
    • Previous research has shown the importance of social capital in various aspects of life, including student outcomes such as educational success and academic aspirations.
  • The study utilized data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health)* to examine how family social capital impacts academic achievement in higher education.
    • It also assesses whether race, gender, and parental income played influential roles in this relationship.
  • Results add to the previous literature on the importance of social capital in higher educational success.
  • Findings suggest that father-youth and mother-youth relationships may impact achievement in higher education differently.
  • The influence of family social capital on educational achievement was not equal across demographic groups.
    • Family social capital was most impactful for female students than their male counterparts.
    • Family social capital was also most impactful for White and Asian students compared to other groups.
  • Parental education, employment, and income can influence how family social capital affects academic achievement.
    • Results show that having a parent with a high school diploma or higher is related to an increased chance of higher educational success than having parents without high school diplomas.
  • Findings a) highlight the importance of social capital, family relationships, and contexts/environments in higher educational success and b) that accounting for outcomes in neighborhoods and schools may explain why some students obtain their college degrees while others don’t.
  • It is possible that other factors play a role in educational success (i.e., school factors).

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

This article aims to show the influence of social capital on the academic achievement of American students. Using data from Waves I and IV of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health), this study explored how one of the domains of social capital, the family, makes a difference to educational outcomes in higher education. Cross-classified multilevel models were used to analyze the data to understand the effects of family social capital variables and contexts on academic achievement. In addition, the models examined if gender, race, and parental socioeconomic status influenced the relationship. The findings from this study showed that the effects of family social capital differed for different groups of students and was impacted by the context. This study also found that parental income, education, and employment all affected how family social capital influenced academic achievement.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion & Conclusion Section)

This study was designed to determine the influence of family social capital on a student’s higher education academic achievement. In addition, the study aimed to highlight the importance of social capital to the educational aspiration and achievement of students in the American educational system and the need to further understand that impact. This study specifically paid attention to how environments such as schools and neighborhoods influence the development of social capital as well as examining the relationship of these contexts to family social capital variables and how they influenced the higher educational achievement of students based on gender, racial identity, and SES.

As with many studies, this study has several limitations. The Add Health data used in this study were collected for a purpose other than understanding social capital among adolescents and adults. Also, because the information for the first wave of the study was gathered over two decades ago, it is difficult to say if the responses given at that time would be the same in the current society. Again, social capital is a complex concept to understand and measure. In this study, a number of indicators were used to represent family social capital and some of these had significant influences on higher education academic achievement. However, it is possible that a different set of indicators could show a different set of results with regard to the outcome variable. While this study made every effort to ensure that the measures used truly 178 Youth & Society 55(1) represented family social capital, there is still so much disagreement amongst scholars and researchers on the theory of social capital that this could be debatable. There was also the issue of sampling weights that could not be applied because none have been developed for CCMMs. Although many other studies that have used CCMM have omitted using weights, more studies in which CCMM are used in the context of education will help determine how much sampling has an impact on the results of CCMMs.

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