A Meta-Synthesis of Academic and Social Characteristic Studies: First-Generation College Students in STEM Disciplines at HBCUs

Hicks, Terence; Wood, J. Luke
Publication Year:
Journal for Multicultural Education

Purpose: Given that a relatively large percentage of college students entering historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are first-generation students and considering the low completion rate among this group in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) discipline, the purpose of this preliminary meta-synthesis study is intended to facilitate a greater understanding of the academic and social adjustment among college students, particularly first-generation college students enrolled in STEM disciplines at HBCUs. Therefore, this meta-synthesis will shed light and offer important recommendations for university administrators and faculty members in supporting the academic and social adjustment of these students in STEM fields at HBCUs. Design/methodology/approach: This review of literature was conducted using a meta-synthesis approach (also referred to as integrative review). A meta-synthesis is based on a process by which findings across multiple studies are organized and presented (Turner, Gonzalez and Wood, 2008; Wood, 2010). This approach is used to provide insight to academicians and practitioners alike on the status of research on a given phenomenon (Bland, Meurer and Maldonado, 1995; Patterson, Thorne, Canam and Jillings, 2001; Wood, 2010). We engaged in a cyclical process of collecting, annotating, and synthesizing research over a 45-year time-frame (1970 to 2015). This produced over 50 cited resources with more than 100 scholars including peer-reviewed articles, reports, books, book chapters, and conference papers. Findings: Factors present in the literature that affected students enrolled in a STEM program at a HBCU are grouped into three contexts: (a) first-generation academic and social characteristics, (b) first-generation college dropout and transition, and (c) first-generation STEM retention. Tables 2 to 4 provide these contexts by author and year of publication. Within these general groupings, four interrelated themes emerged from the literature: (a) prior academic performance and STEM discipline, (b) college adjustment and STEM discipline, (c) social integration and STEM discipline, and (d) academic integration and STEM discipline. Originality/value: This information may help professors and university professionals in the STEM fields to be more aware of the challenges faced by incoming college students. More empirical work is needed in this area in a way that is useful for understanding and enhancing professors' and university professionals' knowledge. To this end, research that carefully describes what HBCU professors and university professionals know or their ideas about teaching college students, especially first-generation students enrolled in the STEM discipline, is needed.

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