An Examination of the Factors that Contribute to Undergraduate Persistence and Graduate Degree Aspirations for First-Generation College Students Attending Elite Universities
McCarron, Grazziella Pagliarulo
Inkelas, Karen K.
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First&ndasgeneration college students' paths to and through higher education may be quite different from those of their non&ndasfirst peers. Given some of first&ndasgeneration students' background characteristics (e.g., race, income, educational aspirations, cultural capital) and the complexities of their home and college environments, the factors that may challenge these courageous students in achieving their educational objectives and aspirations may be abundant (Davis, 2010; Inman & Mayes, 1999; McConnell, 2000; Warburton, Bugarin, & Nuñez, 2001). As such, the purpose of this study was to examine the factors that contribute to the undergraduate persistence (i.e., college attainment) and graduate educational aspirations of 103 first&ndasgeneration college students using a college impact lens. This study was based on data collected via the National Longitudinal Survey of Freshmen (NLSF) from students attending 28 elite U.S. institutions and was guided by a number of research questions exploring the roles of student background characteristics and on&ndash and off&ndash campus environments in student outcomes. The original research design for this study was grounded in multivariate methods, however, statistical vulnerabilities in the data prompted the use of bi&ndashvariate, non&ndasparametric methods instead. Thus, while this study's revised research design could not offer predictive evidence with regard to the student backgrounds and environments studied, noteworthy findings did emerge. Specifically, data analysis revealed significant relationships between first&ndasgeneration college students' involvements, such as interactions with peers and interactions with faculty, and the study outcome of undergraduate persistence. Further, significant associations were discovered between students' pre&ndascollege educational aspirations and undergraduate persistence and between the importance of family support and undergraduate persistence. Additionally, the bi&ndasvariate approach yielded a number of findings with regard to salient differences in first&ndasgeneration student involvements given background variables. This study's findings offered context for understanding the factors, both internal and external to the college environment, that potentially relate to first&ndasgeneration college students' outcomes. Further, this study's results have implications for how practitioners, faculty, administrators, university leadership, and policymakers conceptualize and action interventions that serve to support and bolster first&ndasgeneration college students and shepherd them toward college completion and beyond.