American universities increasingly admit first-generation students-students whose parents do not have four-year degrees. Once admitted, these students experience greater challenges adjusting to universities compared to continuing-generation students-students who have at least one parent with a four-year degree. This additional adversity is typically explained in terms of first-generation students' relative lack of economic (e.g., money) or academic (e.g., preparation) resources. We propose that this adversity also stems from a cultural mismatch between the mostly middle-class, independent norms institutionalized in American universities and the relatively interdependent norms that first-generation students are socialized with in working-class contexts before college. As predicted, an experiment revealed that framing the university culture in terms of independent norms (cultural mismatch) led first-generation students to show greater increases in cortisol and less positive/more negative emotions than continuing-generation students while giving a speech. However, reframing the university culture to include interdependent norms (cultural match) eliminated this gap.
- First-generation college students
- Higher education
- Social class
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Social Psychology
- Sociology and Political Science