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ERIC Number: ED513420
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2010
Pages: 79
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: 0
ISBN: ISBN-978-1-1095-8512-4
A Cultural Mismatch: The Experience of First-Generation College Students in Elite Universities
Stephens, Nicole M.
ProQuest LLC, Ph.D. Dissertation, Stanford University
"First-generation" college students, whose parents have not attended college, are an increasing presence at elite colleges and universities. Admitting these students, however, is not enough to ensure that they can take full advantage of the opportunities available to them in college and succeed there. Indeed, research indicates that first-generation students experience more difficulty in college than students who have parents with 4-year college degrees, who we refer to as "continuing-generation" students. We propose that one reason first-generation students struggle is because they experience a cultural mismatch between their understandings of themselves, or their "cultural models of self," and the models of self that are prevalent in the college culture. America's elite colleges and universities, like most mainstream institutions in American society, tend to reflect and promote cultural models of "independence" as the norm. According to the independent model, the self is assumed to be separate from others, autonomous, in control, and free to choose based on personal preferences. For example, reflecting an independent model, colleges and universities tend to expect students to work individually, express their thoughts and opinions, and make choices based on personal preferences. In contrast to this culture of independence, first-generation college students often come from working-class contexts, which tend to promote understandings of the self as "interdependent." According to the interdependent model, the self is connected to others, is part of a social unit, and is responsive to the social environment. For example, a student with an interdependent self would likely be motivated by opportunities to work on a team, meet social goals, and learn from others. The current research explores the hypothesis that elite colleges and universities are structured primarily according to independence, that first-generation compared to continuing-generation students more often understand college in terms of interdependence, and that first-generation students' performance depends, in part, on experiencing a cultural match between their models of self and the college culture. First, to illuminate the norms of independence that we hypothesize structure the college environment, Study 1 examined college administrators' expectations for college students. Study 1 showed that, above all else, administrators expected students to develop independent selves. Themes pertaining to relationships were notably absent from their responses. Next, Study 2 examined first-generation and continuing-generation students' understandings of the purpose of college. Study 2 found that first-generation students understood college not only as an opportunity to accomplish individual goals, but also as a chance to help others (e.g., give back to their communities and help their families). Finally, Study 3 sought to match the college culture to first-generation college students' models of self. Specifically, students were either presented with a message about college that included themes of interdependence or a message that focused exclusively on independence. Study 3 found that first-generation students were more accurate on a novel puzzle task after being exposed to the culturally matched interdependent message compared to the independent message. These studies suggest that small changes in institutional norms, such as including a greater diversity of ideas and practices, could provide a more equitable learning environment for all students. [The dissertation citations contained here are published with the permission of ProQuest LLC. Further reproduction is prohibited without permission. Copies of dissertations may be obtained by Telephone (800) 1-800-521-0600. Web page:]
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Publication Type: Dissertations/Theses - Doctoral Dissertations
Education Level: Higher Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A