UW Today

January 26, 2011

UW sociologists seek Tacoma high school Class of 2000 for survey

News and Information

Take the survey and learn more about the study on the researchers website

Check out the UW-Beyond High School Facebook group

Attention Tacoma high school Class of 2000: University of Washington researchers who had you fill out a survey during your senior year – you may remember the free movie tickets they gave you? – want you to fill out another survey about your life since you graduated.

The surveys are part of the UW-Beyond High School Project directed by Charles Hirschman, a UW sociology professor. Hirschman hopes the project reveals what factors help high school students transition into happy, healthy and productive adult lives.

Hirschman is optimistic that they can find and persuade at least 90 percent – about 1,000 former students from Tacomas Foss, Lincoln, Mount Tahoma, Stadium and Wilson high schools – to participate.

Class of 2000 graduates from Tacomas Foss, Lincoln, Mount Tahoma, Stadium and Wilson high schools are encouraged to fill out the 10-year follow up survey.

Class of 2000 graduates from Tacomas Foss, Lincoln, Mount Tahoma, Stadium and Wilson high schools are encouraged to fill out the 10-year follow up survey.

If the project is successful, it could continue to study the lives of the participants with surveys every 10 years.

“The people in this survey are part of something extremely unusual, very special and incredibly important to how we understand life in modern-day America,” Hirschman said of participants in the UW-Beyond High School Project. “We are investigating how young adults go about achieving their dreams.”

Those dreams may be completing college and finding a rewarding career, getting married and having children, volunteering in the communities or a combination of these activities.

“Our objective is not to hold up one standard to measure success, but to describe all the pathways from adolescence to adulthood with the understanding that life takes many twists and turns,” said Hirschman, adding that its likely that many graduates in the class of 2000 – who are now in their late 20s – are “still searching to find their niche.”

In the 10-year follow-up study of Tacoma high school graduates, Hirschman is particularly interested in how minorities and immigrants – groups that comprise about half of the Tacoma class of 2000 – are able to achieve education beyond high school and find steady employment.

Previous studies of life paths after high school have focused on white, middle class, U.S.-born adults. “A lot of what we know about family dynamics and careers is based on more traditional homogenous samples of adults,” Hirschman said. With growing diversity in the country, Hirschman said that the UW study is an ambitious and updated look at life in the U.S because it includes individuals with varied ethnicities and economic backgrounds.

The online survey takes about 20 to 30 minutes.

In the survey, the researchers ask about the Tacoma graduates careers and education, families, health and civic engagement, such as voting and volunteering. The answers are confidential.

Participants receive a $10 gift card to Starbucks.

From previous surveys taken the senior year and one year after graduation, the researchers learned that having a supportive family was the most significant predictor in whether high school students attended college. Eighty to 90 percent of Tacoma graduates who said that their parents, guardians, siblings and teachers encouraged them to go to college actually went even if money was an issue.

“We think that cultural and social forces are as important as financial resources in determining whether high schoolers go to college,” Hirschman said.

Charles Hirschman, UW sociology professor, and Nikolas Pharris-Ciurej, a UW postdoctoral researcher in sociology, are leading the UW-Beyond High School Project.

Charles Hirschman, UW sociology professor, and Nikolas Pharris-Ciurej, a UW postdoctoral researcher in sociology, are leading the UW-Beyond High School Project.

“Within a year after high school, many high school students are able to follow through on their plans to enroll in college, but some students have a much harder time finishing college,” said Nikolas Pharris-Ciurej, a UW postdoctoral researcher working with Hirschman.

“People are taking longer to get through college now,” he said. The 10-year follow-up survey may show “whos catching up” and finishing college within 10 years of high school.

For his doctoral dissertation at UW, Pharris-Ciurej merged data from the UW Beyond High School Project with administrative records of college completion. His analyses reveal that about a third of the Tacoma Class of 2000 go to four-year colleges, another third go to two-year colleges and the other third have not gone to college.

Pharris-Ciurej also found that many college-going students have jobs on the side. Seventy-six percent of students at two-year colleges had a job and clocked an average of 26 working hours a week. Students at four-year colleges worked less; 46 percent were employed and worked about 17 hours each week.

“Not all students are able to graduate from college in four years,” Pharris-Ciurej said. “Many students combine work with college, and there are many more varied pathways to adulthood than we initially expected.”

The National Institute of Child Health & Human Development funds the study. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation previously funded it.