Who You Know: Relationships, Networks and Social Capital in Boosting Educational Opportunity for Young Americans

Writing for Brookings, Reeves and Deng explore the importance of social capital  for promoting educational opportunities and outcomes. The main messages of the paper are as follows:

  1. Social capital = relationships that uplift. Social capital is described, defined and measured in a wide variety of different ways. But there is a broad agreement that it consists in the network of relationships that provide support and/or opportunities to individuals. It can extend from families, neighbors, classmates, teachers, mentors and so on. An important distinction is between “bonding” social capital (within existing groups or communities) and “bridging” social capital (across groups).
  2. Social capital can improve educational outcomes. Social capital of various kinds – from family to mentors – matters for the transition from high school to postsecondary educational institutions. It is hard to tease out separate causal pathways here, since social capital is correlated with many other factors that predict educational success. But a number of studies have identified a social capital contribution. Social capital begets human capital. One study finds, for example, that the single best predictor of college enrolment among low-income urban minority students is whether their friends have college plans, even controlling for a wide range of variables likely to affect college going .
  3. Programs are using social capital to boost opportunity. Many initiatives with the goal of boosting college attendance are based on a social capital approach, through building peer networks, mentoring or advising relationships, and/or through family interventions. We describe four such programs here. One challenge here is a lack of high-quality evaluation of these interventions for most programs, and we urge non-profit organizations and scholars to work together on this front. 
  4. Some of the key lessons of these programs are that both bridging and bonding social capital have a role to play, with families acting as important accelerators (or brakes) on student opportunities and mentors from different backgrounds providing wider network opportunities; that peer networks within cohorts can provide support during college; and that relationships are most valuable when they start early and are sustained over time.
  5. Social capital is an overlooked factor in policy efforts to promote opportunity. Most attention is paid by policymakers to resources in terms of improving access to postsecondary education. But relational factors often matter too, not least in terms of ensuring access to those resources, but also in terms of providing support, information and confidence to young adults as they make what can be a difficult step from K-12 to postsecondary education. More investment in “who you know” side of the opportunity equation may complement the more traditional focus on the “what you know” ingredients.

Read the full report here. For more, see: https://www.brookings.edu/research/who-you-know-relationships-networks-and-social-capital-in-boosting-educational-opportunity-for-young-americans/