While first-generation students are twice as likely to stop pursuing an undergraduate degree after their freshman year, they score higher on measures of academic engagement, educational commitment, and campus engagement, according to research firm Campus Labs. Writing in Diverse Issues in Higher Education, Shannon LaCount, Ph.D., the company’s assistant vice president of campus adoption, shares insights from Campus Labs’ Student Strengths Inventory (SSI), a survey campuses give to college students early in their freshman year. More than one million students nationwide have responded to the survey, which explores six non-cognitive categories to confirm areas of need, identify strengths, and “check common assumptions” about first-generation students.
The SSI data indicate that, compared with other students, first-generation students place greater value on academics and attentiveness to school work; their responses also signal greater dedication to college overall. LaCount also calls attention to the fact that first-generation students “placed practically higher” when asked about the value of participating in extracurricular activities. LaCount says this finding “can influence how institutions design and deliver these experiences,” given that first-generation students may face barriers to participating in campus engagement activities, such as work or family obligations.
On the other hand, first-generation students scored lower than their peers on SSI measures of social comfort, defined by Campus Labs as an individual’s ability to communicate with others, and resiliency, or how they deal with challenging situations or stressful events. But LaCount says these lower scores are less about ability and more about confidence, asserting that “It is unfair to assume first-generation students cannot adapt when they may just need a safe, non-judgmental environment that offers structured opportunities and time to learn new ways of thinking.”
Finally, LaCount says that first-generation students appear less likely to wonder if enrolling into college was “the right decision.” Ninety-one percent of first-generation students disagreed with the statement, “I sometimes wonder if attending college was the right decision,” compared with 84 percent of other students.
How Georgetown Helps First-Generation Students Thrive
Georgetown is committed to ensuring that all students have the resources and support they need to succeed. The Georgetown Scholarship Program provides programmatic support to more than 650 undergraduates, and the 50-year-old Community Scholars Program prepares its multicultural cohort of first-generation college students for success with a five-week academic summer program and ongoing support. The Regents Science Scholars Program further expands opportunities for students from traditionally underserved communities pursuing studies in the sciences.