Illuminating Differences in The Psychological Predictors of Academic Performance for First- And Continuing-Generation Students

Abstract

First-generation college students experience a disproportionate rate of challenges on college campuses, reflected by lower academic performance. Research has identified academic self-efficacy, optimism, goal orientation, and academic stress all as psychological factors associated with academic performance. However, this research rarely distinguishes between first- and continuing-generation students, and there may be unique effects for each group. We investigated whether the previously identified psychological factors associated with academic performance hold the same relationships for firstand continuing-generation college students. A sample of 143 undergraduate students self-reported levels of academic self-efficacy, optimism, goal orientation, and academic stress. Academic performance was measured using their midterm exam grade. There were differences found in the mean levels of psychological factors and their associations with academic performance for first- and continuing-generation students. Overall, the psychological factors explained a very small portion of the variance in academic performance among first-generation students (13.4%) with none of the psychological factors holding an independent association with academic performance. Conversely, psychological factors explained considerably more of the variance in academic performance for continuing-generation students (60.5%), with domains of goal orientation and academic stress being independently associated with academic performance. Our findings suggest that new pathways to improving first-generation students’ academic performance should be identified, and that the current literature knows very little about the psychological factors that play a role in their academic performance.

Publication
Journal of Educational and Psychological Research