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The Mentor: An Academic Advising Journal


On a momentous day in May, six unlikely students walked across the graduation stage of a competitive, private university to receive their bachelor’s degrees. All six were participants in our study of successful first-generation college (FGC) students. Extensive research investigated the high attrition rates of FGC students and enumerated obstacles that led them to drop out.

Our research took a different approach. Through in-depth interviews, we explored the way resilient FGC students navigated around obstacles and what supported their success. By definition, resilient individuals succeed despite characteristics that predict their failure. Stories from this study offer practical implications for advisers seeking to create university environments that support resiliency.

The university can be a difficult place for people whose parents never attained a bachelor’s degree. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (Warburton, Bugarin, & Nuñez, 2001), only 9.1 percent of students whose parents earned at least a bachelor’s degree drop out of college. In comparison, 20.5 percent of students whose parents did not attend college withdraw. The attrition rate of students whose parents attended but did not complete college remains a high 17.1 percent.

The gap between FGC students’ attrition rates and that of their later-generation peers has been explained in a number of different ways. Chief among these are academic preparation, financial strain, identity issues, and social capital.



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Pennsylvania State University



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