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First -generation college students: Family influence and the road to college

Maria Vita Calkins, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Much is known about the effects of college on students. Most of this research focuses on four-year residential college students. In contrast, there is surprisingly little research on community college students, although community colleges enroll almost half of all undergraduates. Even less research has been devoted to the experience of first-generation students (firsts), who are an increasing presence in U.S. higher education, comprising 61% of all community college students. As the first in their family to attend college, first-generation students are, in effect, entering uncharted territory. Family support is critical to their access to and persistence in higher education. However, firsts consistently report a lack of such support. Research on these students has typically focused on more quantifiable characteristics, such as demographic differences. This qualitative study addresses the need for an expanded understanding of the influence of parents and family on first-generation students. Six student-parent pairs participated in a series of individual interviews conducted over the course of the students' first year at a large, urban community college. Interviews explored the positive and negative influences of parents and the family habitus on students' college experience. Findings yielded a model for conceptualizing parental influence on students, focusing on particular constructs that pervade the entire life trajectory, from childhood to college attendance, which differs significantly from the commonly accepted stage theories, which have largely guided policy and practice to date. The constructs of knowledge, encouragement, and action, and associated sub-constructs are discussed within the context of an interdisciplinary theoretical framework, informed by work from the fields of psychology, sociology, and education. Implications for policy and practice are discussed, and areas for future research are identified.

Subject Area

Higher education|Community colleges|Social psychology

Recommended Citation

Calkins, Maria Vita, "First -generation college students: Family influence and the road to college" (2005). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3179861.