Exploring new paths : the first-year experiences for first-generation college students and the impact of participating in comprehensive programs
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The academic and social integration of first-generation college students into institutions of higher education continues to be a topic of concern for university administrators, faculty, and staff. Students enter college with different background traits and experiences as well as have different college experiences that can either permit or prohibit their ability to integrate into the college environment (Choy, 2001; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1983). Academic and social integration are two key factors used in predicting whether or not a student will persist from one academic year to the next (Cabrera, Nora, & Castaneda, 1993; Ishitani, 2003). This is especially important for first-generation college students. A student's ability to navigate the college system determines their ability to academically and socially integrate. By understanding how the different background characteristics, pre-college experiences, college experiences, college environments, and academic performances of first-generation college students can influence academic and social integration, universities could increase retention and graduation rates. The development of comprehensive academic support programs by institutions of higher education has been one strategy used to improving the integration of first-generation college students. The purpose of this study was to investigate the longitudinal impact of comprehensive academic support programs on the academic and social integration of first-generation college students during the 2008 academic year at a large public research university. This study employed a quantitative research design using variables from the 2008 CIRP Freshman Survey and the 2009 YFCY Survey. Astin's Input-Environment-Outcome model (1991) was used to examine the impact of the independent measures selected. The analysis plan utilized statistical weighting, factor analysis, descriptive statistics, and multivariate regressions. The results of this study indicated: 1) first-generation FYE students were not academically integrated into college by the end of the first year but participation in a comprehensive academic support program did have a positive impact on their academic integration; and 2) first-generation FYE students were socially integrated into college by the end of the first year and participation in a comprehensive academic support program did have a positive impact on their social integration. These findings have implications for theoretical frameworks, secondary education, and large public research institutions.