Access is Not Enough: Cultural Mismatch Persists to Limit First-Generation Students’ Opportunities for Achievement Throughout College

L. Taylor Phillips, Nicole M Stephens, Sarah S M Townsend

Research output: Working paper

  • 5 Citations

Abstract

American higher education prioritizes independent models of self as the cultural ideal. This institutional culture produces a mismatch for first-generation students (those whose parents do not have four-year degrees), who are guided by relatively interdependent models of self. During the college transition, cultural mismatch increases first-generation students’ stress and undermines their academic performance. However, we know little about these students’ experiences of mismatch as they progress towards graduation. In the current work, we ask what happens as first-generation students interact with college institutions over time. By the time they make it to graduation, do first-generation students’ interdependent selves and associated outcomes (reduced fit, worse grades) change or stay the same? Using a longitudinal design, we follow students across their four years in college. We find that cultural mismatch persists until graduation. First, social class differences in models of self remain stable throughout college: first-generation students still endorse more interdependence than do continuing-generation students. Second, endorsement of interdependence, which does not match the college culture of independence, predicts reduced sense of fit in college four years later. Third, social class differences in fit are associated with important outcomes during college: lower fit predicts lower grades and subjective status upon graduation. This work suggests opening access to college by itself does not do enough to reduce social class inequality. Rather, colleges may need to provide more inclusive institutional environments to ensure that students from diverse backgrounds enjoy similar experiences and reap similar rewards during college.
LanguageEnglish (US)
Number of pages52
StatePublished - 2016

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