The purpose of this chapter is to provide a critical overview of pertinent literature addressing predictors of academic success of first-generation community college students, when compared to non first-generation college students, based on research questions:
Do non first-generation community college students have higher graduation rates than first-generation college students?
2. Are there significant differences in GPA, after the first year of community college,
between first-generation and non first-generation community college students?
3. Does course credit accumulated during first year of community college predict
successful academic achievement as measured by first-generation and non first-
generation community college students GPA?
Additionally, a critical overview of pertinent literature examines whether there is a relationship exists based on research question:
4. Does relationships exist between first-generation community college students and
non first-generation community college students in the graduation rates, based on
ACT scores, gender, ethnicity and SES?
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Prior research and relevant studies on first-generation college students were conducted by Moore & Shulock, (2006), Choy, Horn, Nunez, & Chen, (2000) and Cabrera & LaNasa, (2000) discloses barriers that this population of students face, while pursuing a college education. Also, these studies reveal the magnitude of disadvantages, which first-generation college students face when compared to non first-generation college students (Moore & Shulock, 2006; Choy, Horn, Nunez, & Chen, 2000; & Cabrera & LaNasa, 2000). However, research on the perceived predictors of academic success of community colleges' first-generation students is very limited. Therefore, this study is needed for community colleges student support services, such as TRIO, to understand differences, and problems, first-generation college students' face. It is also hopeful that from this study, student support services within community colleges will understand the importance of recognizing and understanding predictors that drives the success of first-generation community college students, and more importantly, how to retain and graduate this particular population of students.
The review of the literature will also outline the most important theoretical contributions that are relevant to first-generation college student's perceived predictors of academic achievement, as they persist toward graduation, from a two year institution. It is important for community colleges, and student support services, to understand, and increase their information of knowledge about the predictors of academic achievement, of first-generation community college students; however, many researchers have studied and established, that it was more useful to center their focus on different strategies that are already in place, to retain students, and not focus on one population of students, such as first-generation (Perna & Thomas, 2006). For this reason, the review of literature will focus on research questions guiding this study.
First-generation College Students
The label "first-generation" was originally used by Adachi as early as 1982 (Hodges, 1999). The label "first-generation" grew into a definition, due to research that has been conducted on first-generation students over the years. Today, first-generation students are identified as college students from families in which neither parent has attended college or university (Pike & Kuh, 2005). According to Bui (2002) first-generation college students are more likely African-American or Hispanic, and come from a low SES background.
Because first-generation college students decides to attend college, these students are breaking away from familiar and family traditions that did not encourage nor support college education, which have been established within their families, thereby, making them different from other student populations. First-generations students are less likely than non first-generation students, to persist to their degree (Pike & Kuh, 2005). Chen (2005) reported first-generation students attending a two institution were twice as likely to drop out before obtaining their associate degree, when compared to non first-generation students. Even more alarming, being low-income and first-generation student, the dropout rate is even higher when compared to other first-generation students (Chen 2005).
First-generation college students' college attendance is an attempt to elevate their educational status, and to have a better life socially and economically, for themselves and family (Nunez & Caccaro-Alamin, 1998). Also, first-generation students often begin their college career at two-year institutions, because, first-generation students are not as prepared academically for admission to four-year institution, as non-first-generations students (Ramos-Sanchez, Nichols, 2007).
First-generation Students Academic Predictors for Student Success
Literature from studies that centers their research on first-generation college student's academic predictors for student success, focused primarily on: (a) standardized test scores (ACT), (b) student's socio-economic status, (c) students' GPA, (d) parental involvement, and (e) students' racial demographics (Pascarella, Pierson, Wolniak & Terenzine, 2004; and Goan & Cunningham, 2007). Literature suggests that standardized test scores (ACT) and students' GPA, work hand in hand as predictors for student success. The literature also suggests that a relationship exist between students' socio-economic status, parental involvement and students' racial demographics, as strong predictors for student success. However, Sulaiman and Mohezar (2006) found that first-generation students' GPA is the most positive predictor for academic success, and factors, such as parental involvement, racial demographics, and students' socio-economic status, were not predictors for first-generation student success. On the other hand, Hossler, Schmit and Vesper (1999) found that parental involvement and parental support is a positive predictor for first-generation students' academic success.
Grade Point Average (GPA) as Predictor of Student Academic Success
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Sulaiman and Mohezar (2006) found that first-generation college students' end of first year semester GPA, was generally the best predictor of academic success, for this population of students. Students' GPA is important because of the linkage it has to students' persistence and attrition, while enrolled in institutions of higher education (Choy, 2001).
Studies, such as those conducted by Bailey, Calcagno, Jenkins, Leinbach, & Kienzl (2005) and Choy (2001) have established that first-generation college students have lower GPAs, at the end of their first semester of college. The lower GPA of first-generation college students is a display of evidence of divergent persistence behavior toward graduation, when compared to non first-generation college students (Choy, 2001).
However, Strage, (1999) study concluded that there was no evidence of first-generation college students having GPAs lower than non first-generation college students. A similar study conducted by Inman and Mayes (1999) supports the findings of Strage (1999) study, comparing first-generation college students to non first-generation college students GPA, also found that there was no significant differences in GPAs between the two groups. Due to the conflicting results of the various studies, additional research is needed to explore whether GPA is a predictor of academic success for first-generation community college students.
ACT as Predictor of Student Academic Success
Institutions of higher education will generally use standardized testing such as ACT, to act as a guide for establishing student eligibility for college, and also as a determining factor in predicting academic success (Pike & Kuh, 2005). According to Terenzini et al (1996) first-generation college students ACT exam scores are much lower than non first-generation college students. Terenzini et al, found that first-generation college students' reading, math, and critical thinking skills, were much lower than non first-generation colleges students, which have a negative effect on ACT performance. The same study by Terenzini et al, disclose that first-generation students ACT scores are steadily rising, however, their scores continue to fall behind those of non-first-generation students.
Data from Harrell and Forney (2003) study found that not only first-generation students perform poorly on the ACT exam, but minorities, such as African-Americans and Hispanics ACT exam scores were disappointingly lower, than other ethnicities. In 2009, approximately 1.5 million students took the ACT exam (Supiano (2009). Of the 1.5 million ACT exam takers, African-American and Hispanics accounted for approximately 20 percent, and first-generation accounted for 35 percent (Supiana, 2009). First-generation students along with African-Americans, and Hispanics, had the lowest average scores in critical thinking, reading, and mathematics, when compared to non first-generation students and other ethnicities (Supiana, 2009).
The outlook for first-generation students taking the ACT exam is dismal. The dismal ACT scores of first-generation students exemplify how the majority of them are not fully prepared, when entering community colleges or universities. It is believed that ACT scores is a main predictor when predicting first-generation students' academic success (Supiana, 2009). However, according to Terenzini et al, first-generation students ACT scores is only a small factor that impacts first-generation students' success, and not a very good predictor of academic success. Other factors such as family, study habits, and adjusting to campus life, play a huge part in predicting first-generation students' academic success (Terenzine, et al, 1996).
First-generation Students Demographics
Disproportionately, first-generation college students are likely to be from a minority group, such as African-American or Hispanic Hispanic (Terenzini, Springer, Yeager, Pascarella, and Nora, 1996, Chen, 2005).
According to Chen (2005) 93% of first-generation students are in the 16-18 year old age group, and enrolls in institutions of higher education, immediately after high school. However, national studies such as the National Center for Education Statistics (2004), points out that first-generation students are in the 18-21 age range, which is a lot older than non first-generation students, when first entering college.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2004) female students are more likely to be first-generation college students when compared to non first-generation college students. Kuh et al, (2007) and Mortenson (2007) indicate from their studies that females are the majority of all college students, and are more likely to graduate, regardless of status, first-generation or non first-generation. USE THIS ALSO DISSERTATION page 11
A major finding from a study conducted by the National Survey of Student Engagement (2005b) Viewpoint, revealed that demographic factors such as socioeconomic and ethnicity, have a negative effect on first-generation students persistence toward graduation from college. Terenzine et al (1996) inferred from their study that first-generation students coming from a lower socioeconomic background will have lower ambition, in regards to education, which starts in high school and carrying over into college. However, Brown and Burkhardt (1999) inferred that first-generation college students approach college with the same educational ambition as non first-generation college students. According to Terenzine et al (1996) first-generation college students are at a clear disadvantage when it comes to socioeconomic background, when compared to non first-generation college students.
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Another study conducted by Choy (2001) compares first-generation college students to non first-generation students, with similar socioeconomic background, and higher education institution types. This study found that 13% of first generation college students were not likely to obtain a college degree when compared to 33% of non first-generation students (Choy, 2001). Choy also found that 45% of first-generation students were more likely to drop out of college after the first year, versus 29% of non first-generation students. A key finding of this study disclosed that demographics such as socioeconomic backgrounds and standings, did in fact act as a barrier for non first-generation students persistence toward graduation. Students with a profile labeling them as first-generation students did not have the same persistence toward graduation as non first-generation students.
First-generation College Students Characteristics
Studies conducted by Terenzini, Springer, Yeager, Pascarella, & Nora (1996), Pascarella, Pierson, Wolniak, and Terenzini (2004), Chen (2005), and Bailey et al., (2005) concluded that first generation college students' characteristics are:
1. Thirty years or older.
2. Are more than likely married at the time when entering college.
3. Come from an underrepresented ethnic group such as African-American or Hispanic.
4. Come from a low-income family.
5. Predominately women.
6. Will most likely start their education at a community college, and usually attend on
a part-time basis.
7. Have lower high-school GPAs.
8. Will most likely qualify for financial aid.
9. Will most likely drop out of college before completing an associate degree.
10. Will usually choose a college close to home.
Chen (2005) study acknowledged that first-generation college students were less likely to complete mathematics and science classes during the first year of college, even though these course are required as part of their curriculum for the first year. The study showed that first-generation college students were more likely to take less hours or courses, than non first-generation college students, during their first year of college. This report concluded that when first-generation college students take the required hours and courses associated with their major; taking less than the required hours and courses was a strong indicator of academic success, regardless of the student's profile.
Chen's study also concluded that first-generation college students enrolled in a two year institution are less likely to transfer to a four-year institution, when compared to non first-generation college students. The results from Chen's study suggest that first-generation college students must rigorously follow the curriculum or program of study already set in place by higher education institutions, in order to narrow the gap of persistence and attainment, when pursuing a college degree.
This review of the literature presented is the background of which this study will be conducted. It is hoped that the information from this review of literature will help design and develop programs and policies, that will be beneficial to student services (TRIO) offices of community colleges, by raising community colleges' awareness of the challenges first-generation students' face, thus promoting strategies for addressing the needs of first-generation students as they persist successfully toward graduation. To paraphrase Rendon, Garcia, and Person (2004) to investigate why first-generation students leave college early, is not simply a theoretical interest; if a model can be built that clarifies why students leave college early, then it's possible for colleges and universities to retain and graduate first-generation students at a higher rate.