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Equitable access to higher education in Chile: An Analysis of special-access students' reported experiences at university

Abarca Millán, Erika (2020) Equitable access to higher education in Chile: An Analysis of special-access students' reported experiences at university. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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In order to address inequitable access to higher education, the Bachelet government (2014-2018) started a pilot program to provide preparation and access to university to students who have historically been underrepresented at this level. To this date, this and other special access programs have helped diversify higher education, something for which higher education institutions need to adapt.

In this scenario, and to inform special-access programs, I analyzed the experiences of a sample of special-access students who entered through three special-access programs in one public university in Chile to understand their experiences while navigating higher education. Using a survey, semi-structured interviews, and public documents from the special-access programs selected, this study aimed at answering three main research questions: (1) 1. What are special-access students’ main reported experiences in higher education? (2) How do these students represent and evaluate their reported experiences in higher education? (3) How do programs represent and evaluate students?
To answer questions one and two, I analyzed interviews with six participants at two levels respectively, (1) thematic (Guest, MacQueen, & Namey, 2014), and (2) at the discourse level, drawing from Critical Discourse Analysis, CDA (Fairclough, 2003; van Leeuwen, 2008; Machin & Mayr, 2012; T. A. van Dijk, 1993) and Systemic Functional Linguistics, SFL (Halliday & Matthiessen, 2004; Martin & White, 2005; Oteíza, 2017).

Findings through the thematic analysis show that students challenging experiences by far exceeded positive ones, and within challenges, those relating to (a) academic issues (b) navigating school resources, and (c) mental health, were among the most prevalent ones. Findings from CDA and SFL analysis (using Appraisal and Transitivity Systems) show that university-wide programs and resources materialize very differently depending on the school students enroll. Differences in school resources and level of guidance and support to navigate resources greatly impact how students represent and evaluate their journeys in higher education, impacting the chance these students have of making the most of their university experience. Finally, findings from the document analysis show that programs represent students in meritocratic ways and expect their students to be resilient and emblems of excellence disregarding systemic inequities.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Abarca Millán, Erikaepa8@pitt.eduepa8
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairDonato, Richard
Committee MemberAchugar, Mariana
Committee MemberForman, Ellice
Committee MemberGodley, Amanda
Committee MemberOteíza, Teresa
Date: 17 May 2020
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 23 March 2020
Approval Date: 17 May 2020
Submission Date: 20 April 2020
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 240
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: School of Education > Instruction and Learning
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: higher education; Chile; equity; identity; Critical Discourse Analysis; Systemic Functional Linguistics; experiences
Date Deposited: 17 May 2020 17:15
Last Modified: 17 May 2020 17:15


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