Academic and nonacademic experiences that affect first-generation college student attrition

Geraldine F Koch, Florida International University


The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore the academic and nonacademic experiences of self-identified first-generation college students who left college before their second year. The study sought to find how the experiences might have affected the students' decision to depart. The case study method was used to investigate these college students who attended Florida International University. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with six ex-students who identified themselves as first-generation college students. The narrative data from the interviews were transcribed, coded, and analyzed. Analysis was informed by Pascarella, Pierson, Wolniak, and Terenzini's (2004) theoretical framework of important college academic and nonacademic experiences. An audit trail was kept and the data was triangulated by using multiple sources to establish certain findings. The most critical tool for enhancing trustworthiness was the use of member checking. I also received ongoing feedback from my major professor and committee throughout the dissertation process. The participants reported the following academic experiences: (a) patterns of coursework; (b) course-related interactions with peers; (c) relationships with faculty; (d) class size; (e) academic advisement; (f) orientation and peer advisors; and (e) financial aid. The participants reported the following nonacademic experiences; (f) on- or off- campus employment; (g) on- or off-campus residence; (h) participation in extracurricular activities; (i) noncourse-related peer relationships; (j) commuting and parking; and (k) FIU as an HSI. Isolationism and poor fit with the university were the most prevalent reasons for departure. The reported experiences of these first-generation college students shed light on those experiences that contributed to their departure. University administrators should give additional attention to these stories in an effort to improve retention strategies for this population. All but two of the participants went on to enroll in other institutions and reported good experiences with their new institutions. Recommendations are provided for continued research concerning how to best meet the needs of college students like the participants; students who have not learned from their parents about higher education financial aid, academic advisement, and orientation.

Subject Area

Educational psychology|Individual & family studies|Hispanic American studies|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Koch, Geraldine F, "Academic and nonacademic experiences that affect first-generation college student attrition" (2008). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3319006.