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First Generation College

Students: Maintaining
Relationships at Home
While Creating a New
One Tallia Hasser
As I started breaking
down the different
barriers, I realized the
issues that revolved
around social systems
and relationships
intrigued me. As a 12th
grade teacher, I talked
with students who
were struggling with
the idea of “leaving
their family behind,”
and finding their “place”
on a college campus.
So, I chose to focus my
personal research on
how FGCS balance
relationships at home
while creating a new
one at college.
Problem Statement

● Research Questions:
○ What social barriers do First Generation College Students (FGCS)
○ How do FGCS balance relationships at home while creating their
college identity?
○ What impact do these social stressors have on a FGCS’s success?
● Focus on: social dynamics, social structures, networking, identity,
college culture, etc.
Current Literature/Background
● The federal government defines a FGCS as a child where “neither
parent earned a four-year college degree” (Lynch, 2018, p 1).
● The majority of FGCS identify as a minority and/or from a low-income
household (Planksett, et al., 2018).
● According to a 2018 study Conducted by the Center for First-
generation Student Success, FGCS are one-third of current college
undergrads. The same study found that only 27% of FGCS will earn a
bachelor’s degree within four years (Lynch, 2018, p 1-2).
● Some general barriers include: lack of academic preparedness,
navigating social structures, creating relationships with professors,
financial stressors, and more. This is on top of the anxieties and
frustrations of the average non-FGCS (Jenkins, et al., 2013).
Social Support is Key

● FGCS have to balance two opposing worlds: “the culture of home and
the culture of higher education” (Petty, 2014, p 134). This balancing
act can impact a FGCS’s college identity, familial relationships, and
academic success.
● A commonality between multiple studies was that some type of social
support is key for FGCS’s success.
○ Peer support
○ Familial support
○ Connections with staff
○ College mentoring
● All of the above are influential to college attendance and success
My Study: A Breakdown

● My research focuses on the social transition from high school to

college for FGCS. While conducting my research, I found a lot of
national information about the social barriers and studies analyzing
support services in different states.
● As a future school counselor in Indiana, I want to know more about
how public universities in Indiana support FGCS as they transition
from high school college (focusing on IUPUI’s social supports).
● I also want to learn about how FGCS in Indiana perceive their own
social transition from high school to college with a focus on family
structure/dynamics, familial support, college identity, and finding their
“place” in college.
● Transformative paradigm
○ Axiology : Successful systems of support are needed to bridge
cultural, social, and academic gaps between FGCS and non-FGCS
○ Ontology: What is the perceived reality of FGCS nationally
compared to the reality of FGCS in one of Indiana’s public
○ Epistemology: I believe an interactive relationship between the
researcher and participants creates an open environment where
deeper concerns and issues can be explored.
● Qualitative approach primarily using surveys and interviews as a basis
for my study. I also will analyze current documents about FGCS
support programs.

● Setting: IUPUI
● Participants:
○ Staff in Student Affairs (interviews)
○ Freshmen FGCS (surveys and interviews)
● Data collection:
○ Document review to assess services for FGCS at IUPUI
○ Interviews with Staff in Student Affairs to better understand services
○ Observations of students at orientations, meetings, etc.
○ Surveys with FGC Freshmen at the beginning and end of school year
○ Individual interviews at the end of the year with 10-15 student

● Data Analysis:
○ Primarily thematic analysis
■ How IUPUI FGCS view their own social transition from high school
to college - breakdown into themes found within responses
■ How IUPUI view support services at IUPUI - organize based on
themes found within responses
○ Compare themes identified in research to national data/data
found in different states
■ How does one Indiana college compare?
● Depending on results, next step(s) would vary
● Ensure validity and reliability: Survey & Interview Questions
○ I will have peers analyze my survey and standard interview questions
(although questions can evolve during actual interview based on
responses). This will be done to curb my own biases, evaluate language
usage, and ensure question clarity.
○ “Research instrument needs to be developed with representative of boths
sexes and of diverse ethnic and disability groups” (Mertens, 2015, p 414).
● Techniques to ensure trustworthiness
○ In my opinion, in order to get accurate feedback, trust needs to be
developed between the researcher and the participants.
○ Tactics to build trust: introduce self during different freshmen activities
(like orientation), do casual informative nights at random events, make self
available for questions via email and/or in-person
Gibbons, M. M., & Woodside, M. (2014). Addressing the Needs of First-Generation College Students: Lessons
Learned From Adults From Low-Education Families. Journal of College Counseling, 17(1), 21–36.

Jenkins, S. R., Belanger, A., Connally, M. L., Boals, A., & Durón, K. M. (2013). First-Generation Undergraduate
Students’ Social Support, Depression, and Life Satisfaction. Journal of College Counseling, 16(2), 129–142.

Lynch, G. H. (2018). FIRST in the FAMILY. School Library Journal, 64(13), 24–26. Retrieved from

PETTY, T. (2014). Motivating First-Generation Students to Academic Success and College Completion. College
Student Journal, 48(1), 133–140. Retrieved from

Plaskett, S., Bali, D., Nakkula, M. J., & Harris, J. (2018). Peer mentoring to support first-generation low-income
college students. Phi Delta Kappan, 99(7), 47–51.