14 SES 07 A, School Related Transitions within a Life Course perspective III
The proposed paper views educational choice between academic and vocational tracks from the vantage point of risk aversion in uncertainty. Modern rational choice and decision making theory imply diverse ways of dealing with uncertainty, and bounded rationality approaches are used in the studies of educational choice and educational trajectories and pathways. J. Goldthorpe and R. Breen suggested that when making educational choice individuals try to avoid risk of status loss, which prevents them from upward mobility. In most cases students would try to attain same relative educational level as their parents did.
We study educational choice and educational trajectories in Russia. In current Russia secondary education (11 years) is mandatory with two main pathways: either through academic high school (11 grades) or through vocational school (2 years) or technical college (3 years) to which students can move after the 9th grade. Students can then advance to the tertiary level by passing centralized national examination. It seems (both for parents and education policy makers) that the most direct pathway to tertiary education is via academic high school. This pathway implies higher costs, delayed entering of the labor market, and risks of drop-out or future unemployment.
However, higher education is considered to be of great value in itself, and up to 70% of students want to enter tertiary level of education. Families have to cope with economic and social uncertainty, including the complexities of current educational system, the problem of university quality etc. As current research shows, there is second important pathway to tertiary education via technical college after which many students can have a lateral transfer to the university with a possibility of transferring credits for advanced courses they took in a third year of technical college. The system of technical colleges, which emerged out of previous Soviet system in the last 20 years, is close to American community colleges. In particular, Russian technical colleges like American community colleges serve as vehicle of upward mobility for low-income and migrant students.
We view educational strategies and differentiation in the pathways in relation to social class of families from the vantage point of view of risk aversion theory. We suppose that vocational schools are chosen by students with working class background, technical colleges are the choice of low middle class, and staying in academic track with going to university after the 11th grade – of middle and upper strata.
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