Protective factors, endurance characteristics, and persistence of first-generation, non-traditional and traditional college students

Melissa Karl-Lam, Fordham University


A large and growing percentage of U.S. undergraduates are either the first in their families to matriculate beyond high school or beyond traditional college age. These "first-generation/nontraditional" students (FGNT) account for nearly half of college attendees. They also leave school without graduating in disproportionate numbers. Given their prominence, it is worth investigating the endurance characteristics and protective factors that account for the resilience and persistence of FGNT students who do earn their degrees. Previous studies have considered psychological and situational factors, such as self-efficacy and social integration. This study is the first to examine the combined effect of role models, perceptions of self-efficacy, and the "fit" between students and their respective institutions of higher learning. College sophomores, juniors, and seniors (N = 215) at two private universities in the vicinity of New York City were tested for persistence via The Career Barriers Inventory (CBI), the "person-environment fit" of student and college by the Institutional Integration Scale, social and general self-efficacy by the Self-Efficacy Scale, and the availability of role models and mentors by the Influence of Others on Academic and Career Decisions Scale. Analyses suggested that FGNT students of advanced standing may be more resilient to potential obstacles to graduation than traditional/continuing-generation students. However, the main independent measures did not account for a statistically significant proportion of variance in persistence, nor did the combination of interaction and main effects. Supplemental analyses suggest that students develop greater self-efficacy as they age or advance: seniors had much higher self-efficacy scores than juniors or sophomores. In addition, college women who scored higher on having good access to role models or mentors reported better academic and social integration with their university. These female students also appear to find it more difficult to imagine persisting to graduation in the face of difficult external factors (e.g., gender discrimination in the workplace), as opposed to internal ones (emotional conflict between job and family responsibilities). Students who resided off-campus and those for whom English is a second language also scored significantly higher on the persistence measure.

Subject Area

Social psychology|Educational psychology

Recommended Citation

Karl-Lam, Melissa, "Protective factors, endurance characteristics, and persistence of first-generation, non-traditional and traditional college students" (2006). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3213878.