Persistence and retention of college students is a great concern in American higher education. The dropout rate is even more apparent among first-generation college students, as well as those majoring in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). More students earning STEM degrees are needed to fill the many jobs that require the skills obtained while in college. More importantly, those students who are associated with a low-socioeconomic background may use a degree to overcome poverty. Although many studies have been conducted to determine the characteristics associated with student attrition among first-generation students or STEM majors, very little information exists in terms of persistence and retention among the combined groups. The current qualitative study identified some of the characteristics associated with persistence and retention among first-generation college students who are also STEM majors. Participants were juniors or seniors enrolled at a regional 4-year institution. Face-to-face interviews were conducted to allow participants to share their personal experiences as first-generation STEM majors who continue to persist and be retained by their institution.
Tinto’s Theory of Individual Departure (1987) was used as a framework for the investigation. This theory emphasizes personal and academic background, personal goals, disconnecting from one’s own culture, and institutional integration as predictors of persistence. The findings of the investigation revealed that persisting first-generation STEM majors are often connected to family, but have been able to separate that connection with that of the institution. They also are goal-driven and highly motivated and have had varied pre-college academic experiences. These students are academically integrated and socially integrated in some ways, but less than their non-first-generation counterparts. They are overcoming obstacles that students from other backgrounds may not experience. They receive support from their families and institution, but have diverse academic backgrounds. The findings show that a culmination of many characteristics have enabled the participants to persist and be retained by their institution.
|Advisor:||Bray, Nathanial J.|
|Commitee:||Hardy, David L., Harris, Phillip M., Major, Claire H., Webb, Alan L.|
|School:||The University of Alabama|
|Department:||Higher Education Administration|
|School Location:||United States -- Alabama|
|Source:||DAI-A 79/07(E), Dissertation Abstracts International|
|Subjects:||Mathematics education, Education, Science education, Higher education|
|Keywords:||First-generation college student, Persistence, Retention, STEM major|
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