Campus Immersion: Supporting Youth Agency and Aspirations for Higher Education


  • Joanna A. Tzenis University of Minnesota



agency, youth program outcomes, higher education, capability approach, positive youth development


Encouraging aspirations for higher education among young people who are marginalized is a common youth program strategy for addressing educational and social disparities. However, data on educational attainment suggests that these aspirations often go unfulfilled and that there is a need for a different approach—one that more deeply considers the ways in which social context influences youth agency. Within this paper, I show that while marginalized youth have aspirations for higher education, they have fewer opportunities to take action to achieve them. Conceptually, this paper draws from Bourdieu’s concept of “habitus” and Sen’s capability approach in order to understand the aspirations for higher education among marginalized youth and how they can be supported through youth programs. A case from an overnight, campus-based youth program highlights how youth programs can support youths’ agentic abilities to achieve their aspirations. The findings from this study suggest that both future-planning activities and emulating student life prepared youth to navigate socio-cultural barriers to aspiration achievement. The presented findings offer insight into the nature of aspiring and have implications for how youth programs can be designed to effectively support agency and aspiration development among youth who have been marginalized.

Author Biography

Joanna A. Tzenis, University of Minnesota

Joanna Tzenis is an assistant Extension professor at the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Youth Development. She holds a Ph.D. in organizational leadership and policy development. Her research and practice are concerned with issues of equity and opportunity. She draws on sociocultural theories to understand how structures both enable and constrain young people’s abilities to achieve their aspirations in and through education. She draws on the capability approach to understand youth agency and to inform the development of campus immersion experiences which support youth abilities to lead a life of value. Her dissertation research examines how marginalized youth act to achieve their aspirations in the face of adversity and opportunity.


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