Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Margaret Eisenhart

Second Advisor

Allison Atteberry

Third Advisor

Michele Moses

Fourth Advisor

William Penuel

Fifth Advisor

Amy Wilkins


This dissertation investigates how low-resource high schools support (or not) high achieving, low-income students depending on how they enact college readiness agendas. My study was motivated by the lack of empirical research in two areas—how college readiness policies are being actualized for high achieving, low-income students and how these students leverage network ties to their schools, families, and communities to access college. I conducted a longitudinal case study analysis of twenty focal students attending two low-resource high schools in the Denver area. Data were analyzed with a new construct—college-going capital—that I developed from aspects of social capital (Bourdieu, 1986) and community cultural wealth (Yosso, 2005). I present three key findings: (1) one school focused on preparing students for careers first and college second, often in large group settings. Unless the focal students actively sought out staff, they had a hard time navigating the college readiness agenda at their school and accessing college. (2) The other school focused on preparing all students beginning in ninth grade for college and created a college readiness agenda that facilitated multiple connections between students and institutional agents. Nonetheless, many of the focal students faced barriers in accessing specific programs. (3) Although both schools took a deficit perspective towards their students, the focal students drew upon many valuable resources of college-going capital outside of school via network ties to families (familial capital) and to peers and community members (communal capital). These findings are particularly useful in a time in which the opportunity gap is only widening among high- and low-income students who have college aspirations. Amidst reduced funding and pressure to meet state accountability measures, low-resource high schools often have few resources to commit to college readiness agendas that cultivate the necessary social networks their students need in order to access college. Yet my findings suggest that high achieving low-income students will benefit if their schools (1) implement college readiness initiatives that facilitate individual connections, (2) ensure that students have multiple opportunities to connect to college-linking programs, and (3) recognize and leverage the college-going capital that their students access outside of school.