Date of Award

Spring 5-21-2022

Degree Type


Degree Name

PhD Higher Education Leadership, Management, Policy


Education Leadership, Management and Policy


Rong Chen, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Robert Kelchen, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Mary Meehan, Ph.D.


first-generation college student, first-year, academic integration, social integration, cultural capital, social capital


Retention concerns remain high for postsecondary institutions and even more so when focusing on populations such as those who are the first in the family to attend college, first-generation college students. First-generation students account for 34% of the collegiate population, yet 40% of first-generation students do not return for their sophomore year. While prior theoretical frameworks and research points to academic and social integration as key indicators of retention, first-generation students are less likely to integrate into their institution. First-generation students are about 30% less likely compared to their continuing generation peers to be integrated at all on campus.

Utilizing data from the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), the purpose of this quantitative study was to understand which academic and social integration factors are important in predicting first-generation students’ intentions to return after their first year in college. Employing Astin’s theory of student involvement, Tinto’s theory of student departure, social and cultural capital frameworks, the study examined which academic and social integration factors are significantly related to retention among first-generation students. Additionally, control variables included demographic and institutional characteristics to understand what other factors are important in predicting first-generation student retention.

The findings of this study indicate that academic and social integration variables related to institutional support, peers, and participation in extracurricular activities are influential in first-generation student retention. Race/ethnicity, academic major, grades, institutional size, and type were also factors related to retention. Recommendations for practice, policy, and implications for future research included increased funding for support services and co-curricular activities, increased financial aid, and updated frameworks to reflect the cultural differences of first-generation students.