First generation college students and non-first-generation college students: Perceptions of belonging

Margaret Costello, Amy Ballin, Miriam Rosalyn Diamond, Lan Gao


Background and objective: First generation college students (FGS), are emerging as an important demographic group for colleges and universities. Having a ‘sense of belonging’ or belonging is important to the success of all college students, especially for the retention of students who may be at risk of not completing their academic degree. The purpose of this study is to analyze differences between first generation and non-first-generation college students based on a mattering survey.

Methods: Two hundred and thirty undergraduate students in one New England College participated in a study designed to uncover differences between FGS and non-first-generation college students based on responses to a mattering survey. The study utilized a questionnaire designed to capture students’ opinions on mattering. Open questions were included to inform and enrich the data.

Results: First-generation student perceived a greater number of obstacles in their college experience than non-first-generation students. Obstacles to academic success for first generation students included lack of time to study due to work and family responsibilities, financial struggles, and unhelpful faculty relationships. Facilitators were helpful faculty and peer relationships. Lack of mental health support was cited as a barrier to both cohorts of students.

Conclusions: Having a sense of belonging or mattering can help the student feel a connection to the college. This may aid the student in persisting towards graduation. Persistence toward graduation is important for all students including nursing students.

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Journal of Nursing Education and Practice

ISSN 1925-4040 (Print)   ISSN 1925-4059 (Online)

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