Advising First-Generation College Students

Advising First-Generation College Students:
Research from Advisors Who’ve
Been There and Done That
2012 NACADA Annual Conference, Session # 295
Angela D. Mead
Honors Advising
Appalachian State
© 2012 by Angela D. Mead
The key terms
 First generation college students (FGCS) are typically defined as
students from families where neither parent or primary guardian
obtained a Bachelor’s degree (Davis, 2010).
A major challenge is that there is not yet a widely accepted definition,
so multiple definitions may be used. This makes comparing research
very difficult!
 Continuing-generation college student (CGCS) are students for
whom at least one parent has a Bachelor’s degree.
 College may refer to any two or four year institution, public or
 Academic advisor refers to either a faculty advisor or a staff
advisor who is responsible for helping students to make
decisions regarding majors, course selection, etc.
Literature review- FGCS
Numbers in higher education
 First generation college students are at a real disadvantage when it
comes to college enrollment, retention and graduation rates (Inkelas et
al, 2007; Pascarella et al, 2004; just two examples of many!)
 National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988 reported the
following percentage of first-generation college students (Choy,2001)
47% of all college students
73% of less-than-two-year college students
53% of two-year college students
34% of four-year college students
 Almost 1/4 of FGCS don’t return for their second year of college
(Cushman, 2007).
 FGCS are 8.5 times more likely to leave college than continuinggeneration college students (Ishitani, 2006).
 FGCS are 40% less likely to earn a college degree (Choy, 2001).
FGCS vs. CGSC Statistics
from Engle
Literature reviewfirst generation college students (con’t)
 Challenges of being a FGCS:
 Typically work more hours and have more family
responsibilities, including dependents (DiMaria, 2006).
 Had completed fewer credits by the end of the second and
third years of college (Pascarella et al, 2004).
 Were less likely to live on campus (Pascarella et al, 2004).
 Feel less welcomed on the college campus (Thayer, 2000;
Cushman, 2007).
 Be of a minority race, have a lower socio-economic class, and
speak a language other than English at home (Bui, 2002).
 Have less family support (Thayer, 2000).
 Interviewed 10 academic advisors who advise first-
generation college student AND who were also
themselves first-generation college students.
In-depth, face-to-face qualitative interviews took about
1.5 hours each (on average).
Advisors were selected from volunteers
at 5 masters-level public institutions
from the 16 University of North
Carolina system institutions.
Interviews were audiotaped and
Transcripts and any other documents
(notes, handouts) were then coded.
The participants
Major themes
 Characteristics of first-generation college students
 Advantages
 Challenges
 Cultural capital
 Cultural events & travel, language and clothing
 Role as an advisor
 Knowing who is a first-generation college student?
 Establishing personal relationships
 Defining the role of faculty
 Referring to resources
 Advising best practices
Characteristics of FGCS
 Advantages
Enthusiasm and pride!
 More appreciative of opportunity.
 Maybe more willing to listen to advisor – at least at first.
 Need to be engaged and involved.
 Enlist parents and family.
Characteristics of FGCS
 Challenges
 Lack of parental support, knowledge of college
 Financial constraints
 Need to work
 Don’t understand academic policies and importance
 Not considering the next steps.
 Transition issues aren’t just academic, may also be social.
 Where does their knowledge of college come from?
Cultural Capital Model
 Based on Bordieu & Passeron’s cultural capital
model (1972).
All students have this, but students from more
educated homes come to college with more of this.
FGCS have to gain cultural capital while also gaining
academic knowledge.
Comes specifically from such areas as fine arts
experiences (not rock concerts!), travel (especially
international), etc.
Most notable in language skills and dress/ attire.
Role as an advisor: Who is a FGCS?
 First have to figure out WHO is a FGCS! We can’t
provide additional help or resources until we know
who needs it.
Some institutions will provide this data, but otherwise,
advisors will have to find some way to find out from the
 Once you know, document it!
 If there’s fear of a stigma, come up with some kind of code – a
dot, star, whatever works.
 Code them in your student information system like you would
a student athlete, honors student, etc. They’re special, too!
Role of an advisor: Personal relationship
 This was HUGE – all 10 advisors said that it was vital to
establish a personal relationship of some sort with FGCS
early in their academic careers.
A first-generation advisor may be able to be more empathetic, but
any advisor can be sympathetic and understanding of challenges
associated with being FG.
 Share part of your personality.
Put up posters of your favorite band on the wall, have photos of your
family/ pets around, books/ magazines scattered around, etc.
 Tell part of your story.
Share what you’re comfortable with about your educational history
and your personal history.
Role as an advisor: Role of faculty
 There was a conflict between words and experiences of
the advisors here.
Most of the advisors encouraged their students to meet with faculty,
to find faculty mentors, etc., but only 1 of 10 reported having done
this themselves.
 Faculty mentors
Try to find faculty members who either were FGCS themselves or
who understand what it’s like and to use them as resources.
Encourage undecided students to research faculty members online,
perhaps by their research interests, and then to schedule a meeting
to learn about the intended major. Even if they don’t major in it, it
Need to talk to faculty about their grades.
Role as an advisor: Referral to resources
 Most institutions offer some type of assistance for
students, such as tutoring, writing center, counseling, etc.
Problem is that students often don’t take advantage of it without dire
threats and/ or serious repercussions!
 How to get them there
Make specific and explicit referrals – to a specific person rather than
just a place.
Have the student follow up with you by a specific date to tell you how
it went – or you’ll follow up with them.
Have them make the appointment while they’re with you, and watch
them put the date/time in their phone, etc.
Walk them over to the location if necessary.
 Referrals aren’t just for students in crisis, but also those
who could just use a little extra help to make an A.
Start with tutoring, etc., until it’s clear it is NOT needed!
Role as an advisor: Best practices
 Use any and all available data to learn who is FGCS.
 Build a trusting relationship.
 Special training for advisors of FGCS (professional
and faculty advisors).
Begin discussing the next steps early.
Learning communities for FGCS.
Recruit faculty members as mentors.
Reach out early and often to students.
Orientation programs for parents and families of
FGCS so they can understand their new roles.
So now what? Best practices
 Find out who’s a FGCS and document it
 Establish a personal relationship early
 Reach out early and often to students
 Make specific and concrete referrals
 Enlist the help of faculty members who understand
 Hold special training sessions for professional and
faculty advisors
 Orientation sessions for parents and family of FGCS
Advising more than just the student
 Advisors said that their parents were mostly (8/10) proud, but
that they just didn’t understand what life in college was like.
This is true for their students today.
 Suggested special programs for parents and families of FGCS,
either at orientation or early in the academic careers of FGCS.
 Also true from the research literature:
Parents who did not go to college may not be able to understand or
adequately support their students’ in their pursuit of higher education.
Family connections were an important factor in the lives of firstgeneration college students as their families either encouraged them or
discouraged them from enrolling in and completing higher education
(London, 1989; Nunez, 2005).
Consider implementing family outreach programs, such as special
parent/family orientations, to help parents and other family members to
understand the expectations and culture of college (Bryan & Simmons,
2009; Bradbury & Mather, 2009; Nunez, 2005).
 For academic advisors
 Urgent need to clearly identify who is a FGCS and note it.
 Establish personal relationships early.
Frequent meetings with students.
 Consider small group meetings, peer mentors, etc. if advising load
precludes frequent individual meetings.
Required training for professional and faculty advisors for
working with FGCS.
Harness enthusiasm of FGCS.
Involve parents and family.
Offer support services.
 For institutions
 FGCS are the largest single special population, so it behooves
institutions to pay attention.
 Coding in computer system, like with athletes, honors
students, etc.
 Special advising programs for parents and families.
 Special training for faculty for faculty mentoring of FGCS.
 Implement a center or lounge for FGCS.
 Learning communities for FGCS.
 For graduate programs
 Treat FGCS like other special populations.
 What does your institution do that helps FGCS?
 What do you do that benefits FGCS?
 With advising loads how they are, how do you
establish these personal relationships? What type of
personal relationships do you believe are effective?
 How are you able to reach out “often and early” to
students? Do you use technology? Peer mentors?
 What can you add?
 Other tips, strategies or suggestions?
Limited References
Billson, J.M. & Terry, M.B. (1982). In search of the silken purse: Factors in attrition among first-generation students. College and
University, 58(1), 57-75.
Bradbury, B.L. & Mather, P.C. (2009). The integration of first-year, first-generation college students from Ohio Appalachia. NASPA
Journal, 46(2), 258-281.
Bryan, E. & Simmons, L.A. (2009). Family involvement: Impacts on post-secondary educational success for first-generation
Appalachian college students. Journal of College Student Development, 50(4), 391-406.
Bui, K.V.T. (2002). First-generation college students at four-year university: Background characteristics, reasons for pursuing higher
education, and first-year experiences. College Student Journal, 36(1), 3-11.
Braid, B. (2009). Honors and class. Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council, (10)1, 69-73.
Choy, S.P. (2001). Students whose parents did not go to college: Postsecondary access, persistence, and attainment (NCES 2001-126).
Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.
Cushman, K. (2007). Facing the culture shock of college. Educational Leadership, 64(7), 44-47.
Davis, J. (2010). The first-generation student experience: Implications for campus practice, and strategies for improving
persistence and success. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, LLC.
DiMaria, F. (2006). Keeping our engaged, at-risk kids in college. Education Digest: Essential Readings Condensed for Quick
Review, 72(2), 52-57.
References (con’t)
Inkelas, K.K., Daver, Z.E., Vogt, K.E. & Leonard, J.B. (2007). Living-learning programs and first-generation college
students’ academic and social transition to college. Research in Higher Education, 48(4), 403-434.
Ishitani, T.T. (2006). Studying attrition and degree completion behavior among first-generation college students in the
United States. Journal of Higher Education, 77(5), 861-885.
Pascarella, E.T., Pierson, C.T., Wolniak, G.C. & Terenzini, P.T. (2004). First generation college students: Additional
evidence on college experiences and outcomes. Journal of Higher Education, 75(3), 249-284.
Pascarella, E.T., Wolniak, G.C., Pierson, C.T., & Terenzini, P.T. (2003). Experiences and outcomes of first-generation
students in community colleges. Journal of College Student Development, 44(3), 420-429.
Terenzini, P.T., Springer, L., Yaeger, P.M., Pascarella, E.T. & Nora, A. (1996). First-generation college students:
Characteristics, experiences, and cognitive development. Research in Higher Education, 37(1), 1-22.
Thayer, P.B. (2000). Retention of students from first generation and low income backgrounds. Opportunity Outlook, 2-8.
Walpole, M. (2003). Socioeconomic status and college: How SES affects college experiences and outcomes. The Review of
Higher Education, 27(1), 45-73.
For a full bibliography on first-generation college students and academic advising, see the handouts.
About Angela Mead
Angela Mead is the Honors Advising Coordinator in the Honors College at Appalachian
State University. She coordinates advising, orientation and other student services for
~800 honors students and coordinates 4 other honors advisors.
She will be defending her dissertation on first-generation college students and the role
of academic advising on October 30, 2012. Fingers crossed!
For more information, contact:
Angela D. Mead
The Honors College
Appalachian State University
Boone, North Carolina 28608
(828) 262-2680
[email protected]
This presentation will be posted on the NACADA website and at
Thanks for coming!

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