Pathways to Thriving: First- and Continuing Generation College Student Experiences at Two Elite Universities
Author(s)Gable, Rachel L.
Contributor(s)Light, Richard J.
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AbstractIn this longitudinal interview-based study, I explore the self-assessed preparation, academic experiences, and social experiences of one ninety-one first-generation and thirty-five continuing generation (those with at least one parent a college graduate) students attending Harvard College and Georgetown University between the years of 2012-2016. Through random sampling techniques and iterative interviews, I examine the variation and change over time among first-generation students’ descriptions of their college going experiences and compare these to their continuing generation peers. I identify points of overlap as well as factors that specifically affect first-generation students’ transition into and experiences of college. I argue that a classification of first-generation students attending elite universities as either “privileged” or “disadvantaged” glosses over the nuanced and varied self-assessments of first-generation students themselves. Instead, I propose considering first-generation students’ characteristics and college experiences—especially at highly selective universities—as multiplex, accommodating both privilege and disadvantage, and transitional in both nature and outcome. In short, the first-generation classification is essentially a social category defined by its liminality, not by a durable set of characteristics. Even though the first-generation experience is complex and varied, there are nonetheless policy and programmatic lessons that administrators can draw to support first-generation and all students as they transition into and proceed through college. This dissertation examines the various pathways to thriving as articulated by first-generation students themselves. In terms of academics, these include academic continuation and academic divergence in a field of study, and academic turnaround versus ongoing academic achievement among first- and continuing-generation students from diverse preparation backgrounds. In terms of social experiences, I explore the tactics of bulwarking, pride work, and assimilation as ways in which first-generation students adopt or eschew the classification as an identity feature in a given social context. Finally, I offer specific policy recommendations to administrators aiming not to see their first-generation students make it through, but to thrive in college and beyond.
TypeThesis or Dissertation
Gable, Rachel L. 2016. Pathways to Thriving: First- and Continuing Generation College Student Experiences at Two Elite Universities. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard Graduate School of Education.