In Search of the Silken Purse: Factors in Attrition among First-Generation Students. Revised

Billson, Janet Mancini; Terry, Margaret Brooks
Publication Year:

The influence of family background, including parental education, on college student attrition was evaluated with first- and second-generation American students. A total of 701 enrolled students and those who left before graduation were surveyed at a primarily residential private liberal arts college and at a primarily commuter state-supported liberal arts college. It was found that first-generation students approach the college experience with about the same degree of normative congruence as second-generation students with regard to their expectations. They value higher education for the intellectual growth and for the career preparation they anticipate receiving. In respect to a second aspect of social integration, structural or affiliational integration, first-generation students were at a disadvantage in comparison to the students whose parents had significant experience with the college or university setting. First-generation students suffer from a lower level of structural integration since they are less likely to live on campus, be involved in campus organizations, meet or pursue their most important friendships on campus, or work on campus. As for academic integration, first-generation students appear to have equally high aspirations regarding level of education they expect to attain, but those who withdraw are not as strongly convinced that college is the only or best route to life success. First-generation students appear to have lower congruity between their values toward education and their parents' values; receive less support of all types from their parents; and have heavier job loads. These factors increase their vulnerability to attrition. A bibliography is appended. (SW)

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