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Big Enough to Bother Them? When Low-Income, First-Generation Students Seek Help From Support Programs

Basset / Journal of College Student Development / February 2021


two female students sitting with male professor

Low-income, first-generation students complete college at disproportionately low rates compared to their higher-income and continuing-generation peers. Actors across federal, state, and institutional levels have developed a wide variety of support programs to increase the retention and graduation rates of this group, and typically measure program impact through quantitative outcomes or onetime interviews. In contrast, few studies reveal how students experience these programs and how participation actually helps them resolve social and structural barriers to success. Participants in this study encountered a wide range of financial, health, and academic challenges over the course of their first year. Whether they turned to programs for help depended on their help-seeking orientations and the strength of relationships they developed with program staff. One program's mandatory meetings were shown to enable more consistent relationship building than the opt-in structure of the other. This study extends the understanding of how students engage with a support program, the critical role that relationships play in supporting student success, and the need to complement support programs with structural and cultural change.

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