What Helps Some First-Generation Students Succeed

Social Learning Theory

Because of several external and internal factors, the students who have recently enrolled in college face considerable complexities in adjusting to their new style of life, which is stretched to a comic scale by certain social, ethnical or other specifics of the student’s background; however, with the help of the postulates of social learning theory, the situation can be improved. Therefore, it can be considered that the key research question of the given paper is going to concern how students can prevent the typical first-year issues in college from happening. It is important to emphasize that the solutions for the problem are going to touch upon not only the students of specific background, but students in general, and take into account the aspects of the students’ communication with peers and teachers together with the aspects of the student’s background and their studying record.

Reciprocal Triadic Determinism

Initially, social learning theory is based on the assumption that individual and environmental variables acted separately to shape a behavior. Later, Bandura suggested an intricate construct of causation that exemplifies a reciprocal correlation between three primary variables that relate to bidirectional. Such an interactive view of causative factors in the context of learning and development defines the concept of Triadic reciprocal determinism. The causative factors that interact with each other to shape this concept are the external and social background (E), behavior (B), and the person (P).

The figure below illustrates the causation model. It shows the triadic reciprocal determinism in action.

The triadic reciprocal determinism in action

In respect to the above relationship of causative factors, Bandura argues that feelings, motivation, judgments, and actions are at least partly, self-determined individuals can transform themselves and their situations (Muuss, 1996).

The Financial Concerns: Another Theory to Consider

However, the research results show that there is more to the problem of first-year college students than meets the eye. When analyzing the paper by Bui, one will see inevitably that the students doing their first year at college face such factors as financial pressure, which contributes to the students’ further success. Though at first, it seems that the researcher makes a far stretch there in his theory, it is still clear that there is an obvious rationale behind the conclusions offered by Bui. Indeed, as Bui explains, “first-generation college students felt less prepared for college and worried more about financial aid in comparison to the other students” (Bui, 2002, 9). While the given supposition does not seem as legit as the one made by the authors mentioned above, it still deserves to be considered. In addition, Bui makes an important commentary on the failures of the students doing their first year: “in comparison to the other students, first-generation college students express greater fear of failing in college” (Bui, 2002, 10). Hence, it can be considered that to succeed in their first year of study, students need to make sure that they have enough financial aid and that they attend all the required classes and lectures to avoid the possibility of failure. Analyzing the given theory, one must admit that Bui helped pin down the key difficulty that most students encounter in the course of their studies disregarding their ethnicity, gender, or any other specifics of the background. However, it seems that Bui specifies the financial issue as the key to students’ success in their studies, which does not seem quite right. While the researcher has the point, claiming that, without sufficient resources, a student is most likely to fail, it is still questionable whether a student will succeed relying solely on his finances. Hence, it can be concluded that Bui specifies the reason for students to fail, while he omits to mention the factors which help students succeed.

Facing the Fears: A Path to Success

However, there are other explanations of students’ failures and triumphs; among the most reasonable ones, the ideas of Phinney & Haas (2003) must be mentioned. It is important to note that the research of the above-mentioned authors has its limitations, since it has been undertaken among the representatives of ethnic minorities and, therefore, considers the difficulties which foreign students face in the educational establishments. However, the research still offers several great ideas and provides a detailed account of the problems which can hinder students’ success, as well as the factors which can help students succeed in their academic careers. To start with, the authors attribute students’ success to different features of character and, therefore, make it obvious that students with different tempers need different factors to succeed. However, in certain cases, the coping mechanism seems to follow a certain pattern: as the researchers explain, it mostly concerns the ability to relax together with the skills to get the priorities in line. Consequently, the factors which cause failure are such stressful issues as the lack of time or poor understanding of the course material. While the above-mentioned results feel generally right, it still seems that there is more to the problems of the students than the aforementioned issue. The researchers should have also considered the issues concerning the relationships between the students and the teachers, as well as among the students alone.

Self-Regulatory Capabilities

Parents play a primary instructional role in the socialization processes of their children in their early childhood. They achieve this through modeling behavior, instructing, and explaining specific behaviors. In the upper course of development, it reaches a stage when such external determinants must be substituted by intrinsic determinants, such that by the time people reach adolescence they would have attained the skill to self-regulate. The capabilities of self-regulation include self-demands in setting goals, self-direction and self-motivation in attaining their goals, and self-evaluation in analyzing mistakes, problems, and shortcomings.

Capability to Self-Reflect

The capacity to self-reflect plays a significant role in shaping the course of a person’s life. It is important to emphasize that moral and social judgments control social relationships in different contexts, such as families, school groups, society, and the workplace. Evaluative thoughts set the intrinsic platform for influencing behavior. Such thoughts aid an individual in judging his or her behaviors and offer evaluation of prospective actions.

The proportion of First Generations Students in Colleges and University

The number of first-generation students to further education is increasing because of the increased importance of college degrees in obtaining employment (Zalaquett, 1999). Individuals who comprise this group hail from working-class households, minorities, and women (Zalaquett, 1999, p. 417). In addition, this group is made up of part-time workers who have a record of poor high school performance and those with low socioeconomic status.

Factors That Promote Success of First-Generation Students in Postsecondary Education

Students from poor families often fail to complete their course programs. In the annotation of Rodriguez (2003), the narrator asserted that her grandmother gave up learning in her fifth grade because her family could not afford to buy the shoes with which she needed to go to school. Such pioneers in education understood the importance of education and sacrificed to ensure that their children obtained an education.

Aspects of First-Generation Students in High Educational Institution

In their study, Hand and Payne (2009) found that first-generation students pose new problems to colleges and universities throughout the United States, because of growth in ethnic populations. The factors influencing the continuation of studies, including family and culture, locus of control, relationships, availability of information, and socioeconomic status, are an attribute of all first-generation students.

Support of First-Generation Students

First-generation students pose a great challenge for educators across the entire discipline. McMurray and Sorrells (2009) argue that being mindful of the specific attributes and inclinations of first-ever students is an initial step in reaching this group. In addition, adopting approaches that are customized towards first-generation students will promote this group of students in attempts to fill the space between high school and college, or university education.


Study Design

This study will use a cross-sectional descriptive design to establish a relationship between underlying factors that determine experiences of first-generation students and their success or failure in furthering education past high school. The researcher will identify high schools, colleges, and universities with significant numbers of first-generation students. Then using a bar, the researchers will measure the level of influence of major factors that affect the experiences of first-generation students, which affects their success or failure in furthering education.

Study Sample

The researchers will enroll 50 first-generation students from public and private high schools, colleges, and universities. A permit to conduct the study will be obtained from the ethics society office in the state of Idaho.

The inclusion criteria include being a first-generation student from a minority ethnic group in the United States and must be a sophomore, or in the final year of high school. The research will not take regard of whether the participants come from public or private schools. A first-generation student would be identified as students whose parents did not obtain a high school diploma, college degree, or a bachelor’s degree (Murphy and Hicks, 2006) for the high school, college, and university groups respectively.

The Independent Variables

To approach the issue professionally and take into account every single factor which a student is subjected to when experiencing his/her first year at college, it is necessary to define the independent variables which affect a student’s life in college. Considered the factors which are not dependent on the students’ actions whatsoever, these factors shape the behavior and the daily routine of a student to a considerable extent.

According to Ramos-Sanchez & Nichols (2007), one of the primary independent variables to consider when rethinking the first-year experience is the ethnicity of a student: “We conducted a multivariate analysis of variance with ethnicity as the independent variable to determine the relationship between ethnicity and the dependent measures” (10). Therefore, when solving the problems of a student who is caught in a complicated situation at college, independent variables should be viewed as additional opportunities, not as obstacles that block the student’s way to success. For instance, belonging to a minority should be considered as a chance to get in touch with another culture and to build relationships with peers on the principle of novelty.

The Dependent Variables

As far as the dependent variables go, they can be changed in contrast to the independent ones and are closely related to a specific student. Featuring such parameters as age, gender, and social stratum, the dependent variables are also to be taken into consideration when defining the factors that impact the successes and failures of the first-year students.

A good example of a dependent variable is financial status. Though changing it requires a considerable amount of time, it can still be shaped according to the ambitions of a student. Another example of a variable that can be changed according to the student’s wishes when applying enough effort, the attitude of the peer students and the teachers, as well as the relationships with each of the above-mentioned, which should be considered. Even though shaping these relationships does take time and requires much patience, these factors can be changed. It can be considered that the dependent variables also have an impact on the pace of a student’s adjustment to his/her first year at college. While the peculiarities of a character do play a certain role in how well one factor into the mini-society that a college student group is, there are still several outer factors which shape one’s behavior in a much more radical way.

Intervention Methods

Despite the fact that the success or failure of a student depends greatly on a number of independent factors, with the help of dependent ones, the situation can be shaped in accordance with what the student wants. Therefore, even in the case when a student feels completely out of place and has very few chances to fit in, the situation can be helped. Speaking of the intervention methods, it is necessary to admit that the counseling approach seems the most reasonable, mainly because it presupposes a rather mild manner of intervention and does not require any rushed-in solutions which can make the situation even worse.

Measures of the Progress

Measuring the progress is on par with searching for the solution – one of the key means to access the improvement of the student’s state and to check whether the student can face the problems on his/her own, measures of progress are supposed to be graphic and demonstrate the changes in the most obvious way. Hence, it is reasonable that several types of measurement should be offered. Thus the students’ progress will be shown in the most detailed and objective way. The first parameter to consider is the students’ marks. Once the marks are high enough, it can be assumed that the academic life of a student meets the norm. Another measure is the ratio of students’ participation in the social life of the college. With the help of this parameter, the social adaptation of the student will be considered.

Concerning the Attrition

When speaking about the risks that students face when starting their first year at college, researchers often mention such issues as the high possibility of a dropout, the financial instability, and the following stress, the inability to fit in, which causes even greater stress, the problems in relationships with teachers, the health concerns, the troubles with understanding the lecture material, etc. However, very few researches emphasize the significance of attrition, which takes place when a student tries too much, no matter how weird that might sound. Nevertheless, the attrition issues are to be taken into consideration as well when researching students during their first year.

The Missing Data

However, when considering the sources which have been used for the given research, one must admit that though providing a fairly clear picture of the problems which students have in their first year and how they can solve these problems certain issues have slipped the researchers’ radar. For instance, it is necessary to point out the fact that none of the authors offered how students can succeed; what the researchers do is analyze the reasons for low academic performance and offer solutions to the identified problems. However, the researchers give enough food for thoughts on how students can improve their scores.

The Means to Protect Internal Validity

Before coming up with the means which can help one merge with the crowd and become accepted into the college studentship, as well as handle the tasks efficiently and learn the lecture material, it is necessary to define such an important parameter of the research as the internal validity and to define the means to protect it. A moment of defining the only factor which impacts the results, the internal validity of the given research can be achieved when considering each of the factors separately and defining the degree to which it affects the student’s success within a certain group of people in the college, as well as the student’s progress with the college subjects and his/her relationships with the teachers. Therefore, the key means to protect the internal validity of the given research will be studying each factor separately and identifying its impact on a student’s life.

The Means to Protect External Validity

As it can be concluded from the statement about the internal validity made in the previous paragraph, the external validity of the research occurs when evaluating the level to which the research can be generalized. Indeed, even though the objects of the study are limited to a specific group, the research question refers to a wider audience, which means that certain generalizations have to be made. It is necessary to mention that the given research results are going to be true for all students who have just enrolled in college, disregarding their gender, ethnic or social background, and financial possibilities.

Data Collection

The researchers will collect data through structured interviews, and questionnaires. In addition, the questionnaire will incorporate a bar on the factors that influence the experiences of first-generation students, which affects success or failure in furthering education.

The investigators will interview the selected students using a bar for measuring the determinants of the experiences that influence their prospective studies. The authors designed this bar to measure the level of influence of specific factors o the experiences of the participants, which influence their postsecondary education.

Data Analysis

The authors will use the level of education of parents to assign the participants into groups. Thus, the first-ever students participating in the study were divided into three. The first group comprises those first-generation students whose parents do not have high school certificates. The second group includes college first-generation students whose parents do not have a college diploma, and who have attended the college for at least two years. The third group comprises sophomores whose parents do not have a bachelor’s degree.


Bui, K. V. T. (2002). First-generation college students at a four-year university: background characteristics, reasons for pursuing higher education, and first-year experiences. College Student Journal, 36(1), 3-11.

Hand,C.,&Payne, E. M. (2009). First-generation college students: a study of appalacian student success. Journal of Developmental Education, 32(1), 4-15.

McMurray, A. J., &Sorrells D. (2009). Bridging the gap:reaching first-generation students in the classroom. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 36(3), 210-214.

Murphy, C. G., & Hicks, T. (2006). Academic characteristics among first-generation and non-first-generation college students. College Quarterly, 9 (2).

Muuss, R. E. (1996). The contributions of Albert Bandura’s social cognititve theory to an understanding of adolescence Theories of adolescence (6th ed., pp. 281-311). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Phinney, J. S., &Haas, K. (2003). The Process of coping among ethnic minority first-generation college freshman: a narrative approach. The Journal of Social Psychology, 143 (6) 38, 707-726.

Ramos-Sanchez L.,& Nichols, L. (2007). Self-efficacy of first-generation and non-first-generation college students: the relationship with academic performance and college adjustment. Journal of College Counseling, 10, 6-18.

Rodriguez, S. (2003). What helps some first-generation students succeed. About Campus, 17-22.

Zalaquett, C. P. (1999). Do students of noncollege-educated parents achieve less academically than students of college-educated parents?Psychological Reports, 85, 417-421.

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ChalkyPapers. "What Helps Some First-Generation Students Succeed." September 28, 2023. https://chalkypapers.com/what-helps-some-first-generation-students-succeed/.