Academic journal article College Student Journal

Why Do First-Generation Students Fail?

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Why Do First-Generation Students Fail?

Article excerpt

Previous studies have determined factors contributing to first-generation student success. This study finds that first-generation students are less involved, have less social and financial support, and do not show a preference for active coping strategies. First-generation students report less social and academic satisfaction as well as lower grade point average.


Most universities today have embraced the marketing concept. Therefore, both professors and administrators at institutions of higher education need to know their customers (students). Knowing the background of these students can be beneficial in designing programs that will best serve the students they are responsible for educating. While demographic and socioeconomic information on students is collected regularly, many universities rarely use this information to design programs that provide greater value.

First-generation students (heretofore referred to as "FGS") account for nearly 50% of today's student population (Choy, 2001). A FGS is defined as a student that comes from a family where neither parent/guardian graduated from college. In contrast, continuing-generation students (heretofore referred to as "CGS") are those students currently in college who have at least one parent/guardian that completed college. This study will explore the differences between FGS and CGS in today's university population. More specifically, it will identify the needs, attitudes, behaviors, and perceptions of these two disparate groups of students.

The graduation rate (persistence) among FGS is much lower than CGS (Ishitani, 2006; Chen & Carroll, 2005; Ishitani, 2003; Warburton, Bugarin & Nunez, 2001). Past research has determined that FGS work more hours and have more financial dependents (Inman & Mayes, 1999; Nunez & Cuccaro-Alamin, 1998) and generally feel unprepared to attend college (Rodriguez, 2003). Being ill-equipped to succeed in college has tremendous consequences. It is believed that FGS enter the university with greater stress and equipped with lesser means to cope with this stress. It is expected that first-generation status impacts students' ability to be involved socially on-campus and that a combination of these factors result in lower academic performance and college dissatisfaction.

Literature Review

What differentiates FGS from their peers is the fact that they did not grow up around adults that completed college. As a result, FGS are less exposed to the support and other contributing factors that provide preparation and support to CGS as they navigate through college. Rodriguez (2003) reported that FGS enter college with less knowledge of the "college-going" process, less academic preparedness, and an inability to acquire necessary funds to pay for college. FGS also reported feeling a certainty to be "discovered" as people that did not belong in college but were pretending that they did (Rodriguez, 2003). In addition, FGS perceive their parents to be less supportive and less encouraging than CGS (Billson & Terry, 1982; Choy, 2001; Rodriguez, 2003; Terenzini, Springer, Yeager, Pascarella, & Nora, 1996; York-Anderson & Bowman, 1991).

FGS enter college working more hours, with lower family incomes, and more financial dependents than CGS (Bui, 2002; Inman & Mayes, 1999, Nunez & Cuccaro-Alamin, 1998). Parents and family members of FGS may not understand the time and energy that must be invested in college to be successful. As a result, these parents may expect their children to contribute to the family or move out and start their own family upon completing high school just as the parents had to do when they completed their secondary education.

Further, FGS are often reluctant to take out student loans to pay for college and also suffer from the fact that federal financial aid is not keeping up with rising tuition (Levine & Nidiffer, 1996; Paulsen & St. …

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