Contradictions in the American dream: High educational aspirations and perceptions of deteriorating institutional support

Authors:
Pamela Aronson
Published Online:
02 Nov 2016
DOI:
10.1002/ijop.12396
Pages:
49–57
Volume/Issue No:
Volume 52 Issue 1

Additional Options

This study examines contradictions in the “American Dream” during the Great Recession: young adults maintained high educational aspirations, yet perceived little opportunity for their educational achievements to help them fulfil their dreams of financial prosperity and work stability. Based on in‐depth interviews with 85 young college students and recent graduates, this study found that college enrolment was propelled by the recession, as a college degree, and often a graduate or professional degree, was perceived as an increasingly necessary credential. Despite these high educational aspirations, students and recent graduates were fearful about their capacity to find future work and they expressed concerns about the collapse of employment opportunity. Many were also wary of educational institutions, which they viewed as unable to prepare them for a shrinking job market. These perceptions reveal a contradiction in the “American Dream:” although young adults have high aspirations and achievements, they have lost confidence in the educational and work institutions upon which they must depend.

© 2016 International Union of Psychological Science