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Angela D. Mead Honors Advising Coordinator, Appalachian State University Advising First-Generation College Students: Research from Advisors Who’ve Been.

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Presentation on theme: "Angela D. Mead Honors Advising Coordinator, Appalachian State University Advising First-Generation College Students: Research from Advisors Who’ve Been."— Presentation transcript:

1 Angela D. Mead Honors Advising Coordinator, Appalachian State University Advising First-Generation College Students: Research from Advisors Who’ve Been There and Done That 2012 NACADA Annual Conference, Session # 295 © 2012 by Angela D. Mead

2 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 private. 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.

3 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 continuing- generation college students (Ishitani, 2006). FGCS are 40% less likely to earn a college degree (Choy, 2001).

4 FGCS vs. CGSC Statistics Compiled from Engle (2007)

5 Literature review- first 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).

6 Methodology 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 transcribed. Transcripts and any other documents (notes, handouts) were then coded.

7 The participants

8 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

9 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.

10 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?

11 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.

12 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 student. 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!

13 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.

14 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 helps.  Need to talk to faculty about their grades.

15 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!

16 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.

17 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

18 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 first- generation 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).

19 Implications 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.

20 Implications 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.

21 Discussion? 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?

22 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), Bradbury, B.L. & Mather, P.C. (2009). The integration of first-year, first-generation college students from Ohio Appalachia. NASPA Journal, 46(2), 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), 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), Braid, B. (2009). Honors and class. Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council, (10)1, Choy, S.P. (2001). Students whose parents did not go to college: Postsecondary access, persistence, and attainment (NCES ). 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), 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),

23 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), 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), 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), 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), 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), 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), For a full bibliography on first-generation college students and academic advising, see the handouts.

24 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, Fingers crossed! For more information, contact: Angela D. Mead The Honors College Appalachian State University Boone, North Carolina (828) This presentation will be posted on the NACADA website and at

25 Thanks for coming!


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