First-Generation College Students: a Study on Academic Performance and a Faculty-Based Completion Initiative
Academic performance is a problem for community colleges, particularly as it relates to first-generation college students. These students often face many challenges that lower their chance of persisting to graduation. Students of first-generation status have a greater risk of dropping out of college before completing a degree. Faculty, who have the most interaction with students, are well positioned to help students achieve success at a course-level and ultimately reach their educational goals. Community colleges continue to work to close achievement gaps and improve degree completion through involvement in various student success initiatives. The purpose of this research study was to determine if there was a significant difference in the academic performance of first-generation college students as a result of a faculty-based completion initiative. In this study, a first-generation college student was defined as a student whose parent(s) did not finish a college degree. The study was conducted at a public 2-year associate’s institution located in the southeastern part of Alabama. A quasi-experimental study was conducted to answer four main research questions. The study compared the academic performance of first-generation college students without exposure to a faculty-based completion initiative (fall 2011) to the academic performance of first-generation college students with exposure to the initiative (fall 2014). Academic performance was measured by average grades in three high enrollment courses: Principles of Biology I, English Composition I, and General Psychology. Descriptive statistics and three-way ANOVAs were utilized to answer the research questions. Based on the findings from this research study, there were no significant differences in the academic performance of first-generation college students by classification, race, gender, or Pell status, as a result of a faculty-based completion initiative. However, there was a significant difference in the overall academic performance of first-generation college students. Students of first-generation status who were exposed to the initiative had higher average grades than those students who were not exposed. Additionally, the average grade for each course with exposure to the initiative was higher than the average grade for those courses without exposure. Recommendations for college leaders and suggestions for future research are also included in this study.