Talking the Talk and Walking the Walk: Low-Income, First-Generation Students' Perceptions of College Administrative Support

Sociological Inquiry / November 2023

Selective colleges have become more attentive to, and publicly supportive of, low-income and first-generation (LIFG) students over the last 20 years. However, despite claims of support, LIFG students report lower senses of campus belonging, satisfaction, and other important outcomes than do more affluent peers, suggesting a disjuncture between expressed and perceived support. This article draws on data gathered from 33 interviewees across 18 campuses, each of whom is from a low-income and/or first-generation background and involved in campus advocacy supporting LIFG students, to examine three questions: To what extent did interviewees perceive a disjuncture between campus stated support and meaningful support for LIFG students? What meaning did they draw from this disjuncture? Finally, what informed their perceptions? The findings show that interviewees indeed perceived a substantial disjuncture between expression and experience of support, which they interpreted as evidence that administrative support was disingenuous. This perception was driven by negative messages from administrators' words and actions.