First to the Finish Line: A Case Study of First Generation Baccalaureate Degree Completers in the University of Maryland Student Support Services Program
Mahan, Christine P.
Fries Britt, Sharon
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This study explores factors first generation college graduates identify as impacting their successful baccalaureate degree attainment. This research was conducted using qualitative case study method, and a cross case analysis of individual case summaries was completed. Through a review of degree attainment, persistence, and first generation student literature, major pre-college and college themes/issues influencing degree attainment were identified and used to develop the study's theoretical framework. Data was collected through several methods: survey; in depth interviews and document analysis. Data was collected on a total of thirteen participants representing the 2001-2004 University of Maryland Student Support Services cohorts. An analysis of collected data revealed several factors participants perceived as significantly affecting their successful degree completion. These factors include academic preparation, college enrollment patterns, peer influence or participation in peer enclaves and perceived ability to pay. Family encouragement and support in both the student's pre-college and college experiences emerged as one of the most important influences upon first generation degree attainment. Further, results of this study revealed that mothers, in particular, play an important role in their first generation student's success. Mothers provide key motivational encouragement and support, regardless of their lack of familiarity with the college experience. Another key factor that plays a positive role in the first generation student's successful graduation is participation in an academic support program. Results of this research demonstrate that the academic, counseling and referral services and support provided by these types of programs help close the gap in terms of amassing critical degree completion social/cultural capital and mitigating academic challenges entering first generation students often bring to their college experience. The results of this study contribute to the dialogue on closing the gap in educational access and fostering degree completion success of first generation students. Implications for policy and practice are detailed in this study and suggest, to achieve maximum impact, educational access and degree completion initiatives must begin at least by the eighth grade and continue through college graduation. The study also includes suggestions for future research on first generation students, their families and the initiatives developed to support their educational aspirations.