The benefits of difference-education interventions in lower-resourced institutions

Journal of Experimental Psychology: General / November 2023

Group partnership

Difference-education is an intervention that addresses psychological barriers that can undermine the academic performance of first-generation college students (i.e., those who have parents without 4-year degrees). Difference-education interventions improve first-generation students’ performance by empowering them to navigate higher education environments more effectively. They also improve students’ comfort with social group difference. However, these benefits have only been documented in higher-resourced institutions. The present research asks two questions about whether these benefits also extend to lower-resourced institutions—that is, schools with fewer resources to invest in students than the universities where prior difference-education interventions were delivered. First, is difference-education effective in improving first-generation students’ academic performance in lower-resourced institutions, and does it do so by increasing empowerment? Second, does difference-education improve comfort with social group difference in lower-resourced institutions, and is it unique in its ability to do so? With students from four lower-resourced institutions, the authors examined these questions by comparing the results of a difference-education intervention to a control condition and social-belonging intervention. The authors found that while some benefits of difference-education interventions extend to lower-resourced institutions, others do not. First, like prior interventions, difference-education improves first-generation students’ academic performance and comfort with social group difference. Unlike prior interventions, these effects did not persist beyond the first term and students’ academic performance benefits were not explained by empowerment. The authors also found partial evidence that the benefits for comfort with social group difference were unique compared to a social-belonging intervention.