Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.

Department (Legacy)

Department of Leadership, Foundations, and Human Resource Education

Committee Chair

Petrosko, Joseph M., 1947-

Author's Keywords

First-generation college student; Small private institution; Learning; Satisfaction; Engagement; Four-year experience


College students; College attendance; Educational attainment; Prediction of scholastic success


This dissertation explored the four-year college experience of first-generation and continuing-generation students at a small private institution. Using Astin's I-E-O model (1970), the following variables in the student experience were considered: precollege student characteristics (input); engagement in academic experiences, cocurricular activities, campus relationships (environment); and satisfaction, learning (outcome). The sample consisted of seniors participating in the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and/or a direct measure of general education learning, the ETS Measure of Academic Proficiency and Progress. Results of the analysis of learning indicated no difference in first-generation and continuing-generation students' measures (n = 342). One exception was found in a subsequent model built which excluded students who did not submit a FAFSA (less financially needy students); first-generation status was a positive predictor of learning (ß=.25). No precollege characteristics (input) or engagement variables (environment) were associated with learning (outcome), other than aptitude ACT composite (ß =.66, n = 39). Regarding satisfaction, no significant difference existed in senior measures between first-generation and continuing-generation students after controlling for aptitude (p < .05). When considering the environmental variables which influence satisfaction, campus relationships were strong positive predictors of satisfaction (n = 175). These environment variables were calculated from NSSE Pike "scalelets," four of which were significant (p < .05): quality of campus relationships/interpersonal environment (ß =.59); varied education experience (ß = -.18); support for student success (ß =.17); and higher order thinking skills (ß =.14). No precollege characteristics significantly influenced satisfaction. In comparing the overall college experience, the difference in the student groups was limited to only a few variables, none of which influenced learning or satisfaction. First-generation students rated lower the quality of their campus relationships and the support they received for success (p < .05). First-generation students typically worked more hours for pay, commuted to campus, and had greater financial need. The results of this single institution study did not support previous literature showing first-generation students high-risk, a characteristic which can influence retention, satisfaction, and learning. The most significant finding from this project was the positive influence of campus relationships on seniors' satisfaction, regardless of parents' education level.