Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Addressing the Needs of First-Generation College Students: Lessons Learned from Adults from Low-Education Families

Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Addressing the Needs of First-Generation College Students: Lessons Learned from Adults from Low-Education Families

Article excerpt

College attendance and retention are important topics in education. First-generation college students, a group identified as struggling with both of these issues (Ishitani, 2003), account for about one quarter of traditional-aged college attendees (Horn & Nunez, 2000), tend to be from lower income households (Horn & Nunez, 2000), and are more likely to represent an ethnic minority (Bui, 2002) than their peers. With the increase in students entering college (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2009) and colleges' push to increase retention and graduation rates (U.S. Department of Education, 2009), understanding the needs of first-generation college students is more important than ever.

Although plentiful research exists on this population, much of the data comes from currently enrolled college students. Less is known about the effect that first-generation college status has after college completion. Through this study, we sought to add to the literature by interviewing adults whose parents lack postsecondary education about their career and work experiences and the influence of family on those experiences. In particular, we wanted to know about differences and similarities by gender, as well as general themes related to being a first-generation student.

First-Generation College Students

First-generation college students, defined as those whose parents lack postsecondary education or training, often attend college to honor the family or to pursue future financial success (Bui, 2002). These students often rate themselves lower academically (Gibbons, Borders, Wiles, Stephan, & Davis, 2006), perceive more barriers to going to college (Gibbons & Borders, 2010), and have less math and science experience (Horn & Nunez, 2000) than their peers.

Once they arrive at college, further differences can be observed as well. First-generation college students are more likely to need remedial course work (Warburton, Bugarin, Nunez, & Carroll, 2001), attend college part time (Warburton et al., 2001), feel less prepared for college (Reid & Moore, 2008), and earn lower grades (Pascarella, Pierson, Wolniak, & Terenzini, 2004). These factors are associated with their higher levels of college attrition.

An examination of the reasons behind these differences exists in the literature. For example, Barry, Hudley, Kelly, and Cho (2009) examined the idea of college as a stressful life event for first-generation college students and found that first-generation students were less likely to disclose and discuss feelings of stress than their peers. Because discussion of feelings is cited as a stress reducer, nondisclosing students would be more likely to experience higher stress levels. Relatedly, Collier and Morgan (2008) conducted focus groups to explore first-generation college students' understanding of faculty expectations and found that they experienced problems with faculties' use of jargon and high-level vocabulary, and also had problems with time management, which led to problems in class and with assignments. Finally, Orbe (2004) discovered that first-generation students often did not see themselves as unique or different from their peers. The lack of a collective group mentality, within the college context, led to less social support for first-generation students. These researchers all suggested the need for social support for first-generation college students.

Other researchers attempted to examine strengths in first-generation college students. Dennis, Phinney, and Chuateco (2005) learned that first-generation students identified peer support as necessary for college success, whereas Gofen (2009) and McCarron and Inkelas (2006) noted that family support influenced college attendance and success. Other researchers (Hahs-Vaughn, 2004; Neumeister & Rinker, 2006; Reid & Moore, 2008) found that mentoring during college was vital to college success. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.