Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Prospective First-Generation College Students: A Social-Cognitive Perspective

Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Prospective First-Generation College Students: A Social-Cognitive Perspective

Article excerpt

The authors investigated differences in college-going expectations of middle school students who would be the 1st in their families to attend college. Social-cognitive career theory (SCCT; R. W. Lent, S. D. Brown, & G. Hackett, 1994) was used to examine college-related expectations in 272 seventh-grade students. Differences were found between prospective 1st-generation college students (PFGCSs) and their non-PFGCS peers, with the former group demonstrating lower self-efficacy, higher negative outcome expectations, and more perceived barriers. Path analysis demonstrated partial support for the SCCT model. An alternative model for PFGCSs is proposed.

To date, little research has been conducted that goes beyond descriptive characteristics of first- generation college students (FGCSs) prior to their arrival to college. This group contains more minorities, is more likely to be from lower income families, and has lower academic achievement compared with their peers whose parents have some experience in college (Nunez & Cuccaro-Alamin, 1998; Terenzini, Springer, Yaeger, Pascarella, & Nora, 1996). Additionally, FGCSs have higher attrition rates once they arrive at college than do their non-FGCS peers (Nunez & Cuccaro-Alamin, 1998). Because taking rigorous course work in high school, by itself, is not enough to even the odds (Horn & Nunez, 2000), it seems important to assess for other differences that could influence this group's college decision making. In this study, we investigated social-cognitive variables of students who would be the first in their families to attend college and whose parents had some level of postsecondary education.

For the purposes of this study, the term FGCSs refers to students whose parents have no formal education beyond high school and who attend college. The term prospective first-generation college students (PFGCSs) are middle and high school students whose parents lack education beyond high school and who have not yet graduated themselves. Finally, students whose parents have any college education, including 2- or 4-year college and regardless of degree status, are termed non-FGCSs or non-PFGCSs when the students are specifically of middle or high school age.

More and more, students in general are planning to continue their education beyond high school. In tact, the majority of middle and high school students intend to enter into some type of postsecondary education after high school graduation (Venezia, Kirst, & Antonio, 2003). Yet, the connection between intentions and actual college attendance and completion does not occur for many students. Although most students plan to continue their education, the national average of students continuing directly to any type of college for 2000 was 56.7% (National Information Center for Higher Education Policymaking and Analysis, 2002). Reasons for the disconnect between plans and actions have yet to be fully identified.


One group of students in particuiar - those whose parents have no formal education beyond high school - experience significant difficulties related to college going. Slightly more than 25% of 1992 high school graduates were PFGCSs (Horn & Nunez, 2000), and 43% of all students (including non-traditional -age students) entering postsecondary education were FGCSs (Nunez & Cuccaro-Alamin, 1998).

In terms of educational attainment, FGCSs tend to perceive less family support for attending college (York- Anderson & Bowman, 1991), are less likely to take college preparatory course work (Horn & Nunez, 2000), and are more likely to have lower grade point averages during their 1st year of college (Warburton, Bugarin, Nunez, & Carroll, 2001) compared with students with college-educated parents. In addition, FGCSs are less likely to complete college than are dieir non-FGCS peers (Nunez & Cuccaro-Alamin, 1998). These differences hold true even when controlling for family income, academic preparation, and ethnicity (Horn & Nunez, 2000; Terenzini et al. …

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