Reflections at the finish line: The activities, roles, and relationships of successful first-generation college students Public Deposited

Downloadable Content

Download PDF
Last Modified
  • March 19, 2019
  • Demetriou, Cynthia
    • Affiliation: School of Education
  • Nearly ninety percent of first-generation college students (FGCS) in the United States fail to graduate within six years of enrollment in postsecondary education (Saenz, Hurtado, Barrera, Wolf, & Yeung, 2007). Empirical investigation into the lived experiences of FGCS is necessary to enhance appreciation of undergraduate student retention and to inform practices designed to encourage crossing the finish line to degree completion. The study examines undergraduate retention using qualitative data collected through student interviews with successful FGCS at a large, public research university in the southern United States. Guided by a theoretical lens, informed significantly by bioecological systems theory, the activities, roles, and relationships of successful FGCS are described. Relations among activities, roles, relationships, and positive college outcomes (successful transition, retention, and graduation) are explored. This study contributes to what is known about FGCS experiences. This contribution is important for the development of programs and supports to encourage four-year degree attainment for FGCS. The study also responds to an omission in the literature on FGCS experiences. Although literature has examined the struggles of first-generation and low-income students, studies have not examined the experiences of successful students. For the purposes of this study, a successful student is a student who has been retained and is within one semester of four-year undergraduate degree completion. This study describes the experiences of successful students utilizing the voices of students themselves. It describes what persistence looks like and feels like through the eyes of students from historically under resourced and underperforming groups. Finally, this study responds to the need for a new paradigm for appreciating undergraduate retention. As such, this study utilizes a developmental perspective to study the experiences of successful students. Study findings include four thematic areas describing the undergraduate experience of successful first generation college students; a) mentoring, b) developing academic competencies, c) engagement and exploration, and d) developing goals and autonomy. Recommendations support the development and implementation of proactive retention and degree-completion strategies from a strengths-based perspective.
Date of publication
Resource type
Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Meece, Judith L.
  • Greene, Jeffrey
  • Parsons, Eileen
  • Eaker-Rich, Deborah
  • Williford, Lynn
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2014
Place of publication
  • Chapel Hill, NC
  • There are no restrictions to this item.

This work has no parents.