Academic journal article College Student Journal

Understanding the Early Integration Experiences of First-Generation College Students

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Understanding the Early Integration Experiences of First-Generation College Students

Article excerpt

Because first-generation college students have lower retention and graduation rates, this study focused on their early integration experiences. Specifically, multiple regressions were conducted to examine the predictors of social integration, academic integration, institutional satisfaction, and homesick-related distress, using Tinto's (1993) longitudinal attrition model. Educational commitment, on-campus environment, academic behaviors, and expected level of involvement are highlighted. Results were consistent with non-first-generation research, suggesting that first-generation students' integration may be similar to other college students. Implications for practice and research are discussed.

Keywords: first-generation, student integration, undergraduates, early integration

Introduction

Numerous studies have suggested that first-generation college students are at higher risk of dropping out of college than their non-first generation counterparts (Billson & Terry, 1982; Ishitani, 2003; Pike & Kuh, 2005; Terenzini, Springer, Yaeger, Pascarella, & Nora, 1996). Similarly, numerous studies have demonstrated the importance of early college experiences and the effects (both long and short-term) of those experiences (Levitz & Noel, 1989; Woosley, 2003; Woosley & Miller 2009). Yet, little research has closely examined the early integration experiences of first-generation college students. This study sought to fill that gap.

Early College Experiences

The research regarding the importance of the first year of college is both mature and extensive (Berger & Milem, 1999; Seidman, 2005; Upcraft & Gardner, 1989). Researchers have examined a variety of transition issues including social integration (Berger, 1997; Braxton, Vesper, & Hossley, 1995; Milem & Berger, 1997), academic integration (Allen & Nelson, 1989), interpersonal relationships (Keup & Stolzenberg, 2004), homesickness (Fisher, 1988; Fisher, Murray, & Frazer, 1985), academic stress (Birnie-Lefcovitch, 2000; Zuker, 1997), academic preparation and self-efficacy (Allen & Nelson, 1989; Berger & Milem, 1997; Liu & Liu, 2000), and institutional commitment (Berger & Braxton, 1998; Berger & Milem, 1999). Researchers have also used numerous theoretical models, both large and small (Braxton, 2000; Seidman, 2005), but Tinto's (1993) classic model of student attrition is widely used because of its longitudinal nature, multiple factors (both academic and social), and relationship to systems theory.

Research has also illustrated that the timing of a significant proportion of college student attrition occurs during the first year (DeBerard, Spielmans, & Julka, 2004; Riehl, 1994) and that adjustment to college has both short-term and long-term ramifications for student performance, continuation in college, and overall success (Ishitani, 2003; Ishitani, 2006). Even the earliest experiences, those six weeks into the first semester or earlier, have been linked with persistence, academic performance, and likelihood of graduation (Levitz & Noel, 1989; Woosley, 2003; Woosley & Miller 2009).

First-Generation College Students

Although there has been some discussion about the definition of first-generation college students, typically these students are described as those "whose parents have had no college or post secondary experiences" (Saenz & Barrera, 2007, p. 1). The studies regarding first generation students have consistently suggested that these students are at higher risk of dropping out (e.g., Billson & Terry, 1982; Ishitani, 2003; Terenzini, Springer, Yaeger, Pascarella, & Nora, 1996; Pike & Kuh, 2005). For instance, a longitudinal study from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) found that among the 12th graders who enrolled in postsecondary education, 46% had obtained a Bachelor's degree or higher within eight years, but only 24% of first-generation students completed a Bachelor's degree or higher within eight years (Chen& Carroll, 2005). …

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