Social media: a gateway to college?

By Nicole B. Ellison

Nicole Ellison

Nicole Ellison is an associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Information.

Collectively, social media sites host millions of conversations every day, ranging from young people in a poor Kenyan settlement networking around work opportunities to new parents sharing baby photos in San Francisco. Facebook is one of the largest social media sites — currently it has over 750 million active daily users — but there are thousands of other online spaces where individuals can connect to one another online to request help, information or social support. My research explores the potential for social network sites like Facebook to support interactions in which people are helping one another, developing relationships, and encouraging positive change. For one set of studies, I have worked with collaborators to explore whether the kinds of interactions supported by social media have the potential to help reshape college access patterns in the U.S.

As we know, higher education comes with a variety of benefits for individuals and societies. However, not everyone in the U.S. is equally likely to pursue and succeed at earning a college degree. Students who are poor, from families where neither parent graduated college, or are black, Latino or Native American are less likely to apply for, attend and successfully graduate than peers who are white, wealthier or with college-educated parents.

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