Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.

Department (Legacy)

Department of Educational and Counseling Psychology

Committee Chair

Hirschy, Amy Seleste

Author's Keywords

First-year students; Engagement; First-generation students; NSSE


College students--Attitudes; College dropouts; Dropout behavior, Prediction of; Academic achievement; Prediction of scholastic success


This study explored the relationship between engagement in educationally purposeful activities during the first year of college and academic achievement, persistence, and graduation. The study focused on the impacts of engagement on student outcomes related to academic achievement, persistence, and graduation at a comprehensive university located in the mid-South region of the United States. Differences in engagement and outcomes between first generation and continuing-generation students were also explored. This longitudinal panel study utilized an Input-Environment-Output assessment model for the design and analysis. The input variables consisted of background characteristics including gender, ethnicity, high school preparation, and first-generation status. The chief environmental variable was engagement as measured by the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE). The outcome variables included academic achievement, persistence, and graduation within the six-year reporting cycle for the Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) in the state of Kentucky. The results indicated that first-generation students were less well prepared in terms of high school GPA and ACT, typically earned a lower first-year GPA and fewer credits, and were less likely to persist and to graduate compared to continuing-generation students. Those that did graduate, however, did so with a similar GPA to continuing-generation students. The significant predictors of academic achievement at the end of the first year of college were high school GPA and ACT. High school GPA and ACT were also significant predictors of the likelihood of persistence and graduation within six years. Surprisingly, engagement did not emerge as a predictor of the likelihood of persistence or graduation for either first-generation or continuing-generation students nor were there significant differences in engagement between first-generation and continuing-generation students. Significant differences in engagement did, however, emerge according to ethnicity and gender with students of color indicating higher levels of engagement than White students and women being more engaged than men. Implications for practice and suggestions for future research are also considered.