Factors affecting success of first-year Hispanic students enrolled in a public law school

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Malmberg, Erik Davin

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Most of today's college students perceive higher education as the most critical element to their future success, quality of life, financial security, and general well-being. Consequently, more and more students entering colleges and universities choose to major in professional or pre-professional programs such as business, engineering, pre-med or pre-law. The majority of past research has concentrated on student attrition and retention in undergraduate education for the majority population. These studies have not enabled scholars to obtain a deeper understanding of the factors relating to minority populations -- especially those from the Hispanic community. In addition, the majority of these studies have not provided an understanding of students' progress and eventual success in legal education. The purpose of this study was to determine which variables from commonly accepted foundational theories on higher education retention, attrition, and student development are applicable to the first-year experiences of Hispanic students enrolled in a Juris Doctorate Program at an accredited law school at a public institution who are the first in their family to attend. Using both a survey instrument and narrative interviews, the study revealed that first-generation Hispanic students are disadvantaged compared to their peers when it came to understanding important law school financial, cultural, and academic issues. While family support, faculty relationships, law school study/support groups, academic mentoring, and academic advising positively influenced first-year progress; the respondents' cultural identity and race negatively impacted faculty and peer interactions both in and out of the classroom. The lack of need-based financial aid, higher tuition costs associated with legal education, tuition deregulation, increased debt from borrowing, and poor information about financial assistance all negatively affected their success. The negative effects of stress and anxiety permeated numerous first-year experiences including law school orientation, law school classes, final exams, grades, and figuring out how to pay for school. These results should help key stakeholders associated including faculty and administrators to better understand minority student issues and the impact of stereotype threats specific to the legal education context in an effort to reduce first-year attrition rates and improve minority access to the legal profession.