Academic journal article Journal of Developmental Education

First-Generation College Students: A Study of Appalachian Student Success

Academic journal article Journal of Developmental Education

First-Generation College Students: A Study of Appalachian Student Success

Article excerpt

The education level of parents is a major factor in the high school student's decision of whether to go to college or not. According to Chenoweth and Galliher (2004) students are much more likely to attend college if their parents did. For students whose parents did not attend college, the college-going process is particularly challenging. Getting students, especially first-generation students, to enroll in college is difficult, and, to keep them in college, the battle continues. Green (as cited in Noel, 1985) states that "stable enrollments ultimately depend on the retention of currently enrolled students as well as the steady inflow of new students" (p. 3). Thus, it is logical for an institution to invest in retaining its students, particularly those who are considered at risk such as first-generation students.

Traditionally, "first generation" has meant that neither parent has graduated from college. However, a more helpful definition, and the one used for the present research, is that neither parent has even enrolled in college (Harrell & Forney, 2003). London (1992) contributed significant research to the discussion of first-generation college students, concluding that they "live on the margins" (p. 7). They do not want to break with the past but aren't fully accepted into the new culture. Often first-generation students try to become independent but are bound to their parents; a relationship of dependency develops, which produces feelings of guilt in the child when he or she leaves the parents to attend college (London, 1989). Examples of the struggles of first-generation students can be found in all classes of society but are most often found in low socioeconomic groups and minorities, particularly Hispanice and African Americans (Gladieux & Watson, 2000; Terenzini, Springer, Yaeger, Pascarella, & Nora, 1996). The focus of the present study is the Appalachian region particularly because of the challenges this region faces in its economic development and collegegoing rates.

According to the Appalachian Region Commission (ARC) "Appalachia" stretches along the Appalachian Mountain Range, encompassing all of West Virginia and portions of 12 other states, from New York south to Mississippi (Appalachian Regional Commission, n.d.). It is a largely rural area which has traditionally faced challenges of poverty, low rates of whitecollar employment, and low rates of college attendance (Chenoweth & Galliher, 2004; Matvey, 1987). A priority for the region is to increase participation in higher education in order to create a more educated workforce (Chenoweth & Galliher). Statistics reveal a direct link between educational achievement and economic development. In 2OOO, 17.7% of the Appalachian adult population had a college degree, compared to 24.4 % of the US. adult population (ARC, 2004). According to 2002 figures, the average per capita income in Appalachia was $25,470 compared to the US. average of $30,906 (ARC, 2005). In the US. Census Bureau's 2006 American Community Survey, the state where the study was performed ranked #5 in the percentage of people living below the poverty level (17.3% as compared to the US. average of 13.3%).

U.S. Census Bureau statistics measure poverty only in terms of financial criteria. Ruby Payne (200$), however, in her book Framework for Understanding Poverty, defines poverty as the "extent to which an individual does without resources" (p. 7). In addition to financial resources, she discusses several other resources: emotional, mental, spiritual, physical, support systems, relationships/role models, and knowledge of hidden rules. As will be explored later in light of the study results, the discussion of resources gives an important perspective to the success of firstgeneration students.

Appalachian Historical and Cultural Considerations

Over the decades theorists have attempted to find plausible explanations to the question of why the Appalachian region has lagged behind economically, culturally, and academically. …

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