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Keywords:

  • first-generation student;
  • belonging;
  • engagement

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Literature Review
  4. Method
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. Conclusion
  8. References

This study explored 1st-generation students' sense of belonging, mental health status, and use of mental health services in comparison to non-1st-generation students. Using the Student Experience in the Research University multi-institutional survey, the authors found that 1st-generation students tended to report lower ratings of belonging, greater levels of depression/stress, and lower use of services compared to non-1st-generation students. Implications for college counselors and suggestions for future inquiry are provided.

For most college students, the journey toward degree attainment is typically filled with a combination of challenges and successes; however, the educational pathway to a college degree can be more arduous for some students, including first-generation students. Our study explored the experiences of first-generation college students who attend large public research universities. More specifically, how do first-generation students experience a sense of belonging and satisfaction in regard to their educational experience? What might be the relationship between first-generation students' sense of belonging on campus and their mental health? And what is the role of college counselors in helping first-generation students to persist toward graduation?

The number of first-generation students on college campuses continues to increase (Engle & Tinto, 2008; Jehangir, 2010a). According to Pryor et al. (2010), approximately 20.6% of entering 1st-year students currently self-identify as first-generation students, totaling more than 4.5 million first-generation students enrolled in higher education institutions. Demographics seem to indicate that first-generation students and other historically underserved student populations (e.g., immigrant groups, low-income students, students of color) will look to higher education opportunities to improve their financial situation (Conway, 2010). College success, especially attainment of the baccalaureate degree, serves as the primary means for first-generation and underserved populations to improve their socioeconomic status (Suárez-Orozco, Suárez-Orozco, & Todorova, 2008). A postsecondary education is increasingly necessary in today's society; the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as described by Rothkopf (2009), predicted that 63% of the 18.9 million new jobs that will be created by 2014 will require some postsecondary education.

It is important to define and describe first-generation students because there are multiple definitions in the higher education literature. For the purpose of this article, first-generation status is defined as neither parent having earned a bachelor's degree; this is also the definition used by the federal TRiO grant programs. In our study, college students were considered first-generation even if their parents had some postsecondary education and/or an associate's degree. On the basis of data from the U.S. Department of Education and National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (2003–2004; National Center for Education Statistics, 2007), there are certain characteristics that compose a profile of first-generation students. First-generation students are more likely than their non-first-generation counterparts to have additional characteristics that may disadvantage them as they pursue their college education. For example, first-generation students are more likely to be older, come from minority backgrounds, and have a disability (Bui, 2002). Additionally, first-generation students are more likely to be nonnative English speakers, immigrants (i.e., have been born outside of the United States), single parents, and financially independent from their parents (Bui, 2002).

Additionally, as described by Engle and Tinto (2008), first-generation students tend to hold low-income status, which is defined as having a combined household income under $25,000 per year. First-generation students are also more likely than non-first-generation students to have delayed entry into postsecondary education after high school, live off campus, attend college closer to home, attend part time (i.e., not taking a full load of credits), and work full time during enrollment in college. Often, first-generation students are nontraditional, female adult students (over the age of 24) who are returning to college to start or finish a degree program. Although institutions of higher education have generally done a better job of promoting college access to first-generation students, college success as measured by persistence and graduation rates (i.e., retention of first-generation students to graduation) continues to be a problem (Engle & Tinto, 2008; Pascarella, Pierson, Wolniak, & Terenzini, 2004). Data from the National Center for Education Statistics' Beginning Postsecondary Study describe the situation for first-generation students in terms of college success: First-generation, low-income students were nearly 4 times more likely (26% to 27%) to leave higher education after the 1st year than non-first-generation students (Engle & Tinto, 2008). Six years later, nearly half (43%) of low-income, first-generation students had left college without earning their degrees. Among those who left, nearly two thirds (60%) did so after the 1st year.

Yet, even with knowledge of the educational attainment disparities among first-generation and non-first-generation students, getting students through the system by providing institutional support for first-generation students continues to be a challenge (Engstrom & Tinto, 2008). According to Pike and Kuh (2005), surprisingly little is known about first-generation students' college experiences and the ways in which their experiences compare to those of students who have college-educated parents. Furthermore, there is little research addressing whether first-generation students may experience different levels of mental-health-related stress as a result of transitioning to the new cultural environment of a college campus. Therefore, the purpose of our study was to explore the experiences of first-generation students who attend large research universities and how those experiences may influence mental health. The central research questions in our study were as follows: (a) Are there differences between first-generation and non-first-generation students in their sense of belonging and satisfaction? (b) Is there a relationship between students' sense of belonging and satisfaction and their level of mental well-being? and (c) Are there differences between first-generation and non-first-generation students in their level of mental well-being and in their subsequent use of campus mental health services?

Literature Review

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Literature Review
  4. Method
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. Conclusion
  8. References

Sense of Belonging and Counseling Needs for First-Generation Students

There is an emerging body of research and literature on first-generation students in higher education and counseling (Pascarella et al., 2004; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005). First-generation students often confront additional challenges and barriers related to addressing issues with being the first in the family to pursue a 4-year degree. These challenges often involve family, cultural, social, and academic transitions (Hsiao, 1992). Several scholars have discussed the challenge faced by first-generation students of living in two cultures but really not belonging to either (London, 1989; Lubrano, 2004). Lippincott and German (2007) explained that first-generation students often possess unique counseling needs related to academic functioning, adjustment to college life, and family-of-origin issues.

As a result of the challenges noted above, first-generation students may feel less like they belong on campus as compared to their non-first-generation peers. Sense of belonging is a construct that can be defined as a need or desire to be connected through formal and informal interactions (Tovar, Simon, & Lee, 2009). However, the concept of belonging is ambiguous and not well defined in the literature, especially in higher education (Meeuwisse, Severiens, & Born, 2010). In terms of its potential impact on retention, there is a strong relationship between belonging (i.e., academic and social integration into the college setting) and student persistence, and ultimately student retention and graduation (Tovar et al., 2009). The greater the sense of belonging to the academic and social community for the student, the more likely it is that the student will persist toward graduation (Hoffman, Richmond, Morrow, & Salomone, 2002–2003–2003). Hausman, Schofield, and Woods (2007) discovered that students' sense of belonging was found to predict their intentions to persist, controlling for background variables and other predictors of persistence. These factors can be especially critical for first-generation students, given that there are ongoing concerns about attrition and persistence issues for these students.

Sense of belonging is related to positive mental health when it provides the means through which one is integrated into a community such that he or she feels needed and valued and contributes to the community in return. Hagerty, Lynch-Sauer, Patusky, Bouwsema, and Collier (1992) defined sense of belonging as “the experience of personal involvement in a system or environment so that persons feel themselves to be an integral part of that system or environment” (p. 173). The connection between sense of belonging and mental-health-related factors is well demonstrated. Hagerty, Williams, Coyne, and Early (1996) identified social support as “perhaps the most frequently studied relational concept associated with social and psychological functioning, including its direct and indirect roles in the management of stress and the prevention of amelioration of both physical and psychological illness” (p. 237).

Taken together, the research on sense of belonging seems to indicate that, for the student, the stronger the self-perceived sense of belonging to a campus or community, the greater the likelihood of success. This is especially true for first-generation students and other historically underserved student groups (Jehangir, 2010b). A theoretical framework, mattering, can be used to gain a better understanding of the connection between belonging and mental health issues.

Mattering: A Conceptual Framework

Related to the sense of belonging concept is the construct of mattering. Sociologists Rosenberg and McCullough (1981) were among the first to label and operationalize the construct, noting that “it is fair to conclude that mattering is a motive; the feeling that others depend on us, are interested in us, are concerned with our fate, or experience us as an ego-extension exercises a powerful influence on our actions” (p. 165). Components that serve as a foundation of mattering include attention, importance, ego-extension, and dependence.

Mattering within the context of higher education has had the most recognition in adult education literature. Schlossberg, Lynch, and Chickering (1989) argued that if students engage in the college experience (both academically and socially) and have positive interactions with faculty, student affairs educators, and other institutional agents, they are more likely to perceive heightened feelings of mattering and belonging on campus. Subsequently, they are more likely to be successful and persist toward graduation. The construct of mattering has also been applied to counseling and mental health contexts, including career development and the use of academic services (Corbiére & Amundson, 2007). Kim (2009) found that immigrant college students (many with first-generation status) attending a large public research university were more likely to rely on peer networks (i.e., cultural enclaves) for help rather than institutional agents such as faculty members, academic advisers, and career counselors. Many of the students stated that they did not feel welcome or comfortable approaching faculty members or institutional agents (e.g., academic advisers, career counselors), but instead sought out information from friends and family members. Torres, Reiser, LePeau, and Ruder (2006) found similar results when they explored first-generation Latina/o college students and how they sought out academic advice (i.e., an emphasis on peer networks).

Mattering is also viewed as an emerging construct in the mental health and counseling fields, with some evidence pointing toward a relationship between mattering and depression and college stress. Notably, Dixon and Kurpius (2008) found that mattering, self-esteem, and the sex of a participant enhanced the “ability of college stress to predict levels of depression among university undergraduates” (p. 415).

Counseling First-Generation Students

In terms of studies on first-generation students in the college counseling literature, there are several that explore the generational status of college students in relation to college counseling issues, including self-efficacy and psychological well-being. Wang and Castañeda-Sound (2008) found that first-generation students reported significantly more somatic characteristics and lower levels of self-efficacy than did their non-first-generation counterparts. They called for college counselors to engage in outreach activities with first-generation students and their families as well as to promote group counseling and greater counselor–faculty collaboration. Other studies on first-generation students and counseling issues have explored self-efficacy and its relationship with academic performance and college adjustment issues (Ramos-Sánchez & Nichols, 2007).

Positive mental health status tends to positively affect student retention (Kitzrow, 2009). Many students leave college early because of psychological issues that serve as barriers to completing a college degree. Researchers estimate that millions of individuals in the United States would have graduated from a postsecondary institution if they had not been experiencing psychiatric disorders, primarily depression and anxiety (Breslan, Lane, Sampson, & Kessler, 2008; Kessler, Foster, Saunders, & Stang, 1995). A dearth of studies explore the mental health issues of first-generation students, as well as the connection to sense of belonging and satisfaction (Wentworth & Peterson, 2001). College counselors can play a significant role in helping to engage and retain first-generation college students by addressing sense of belonging and mental health issues.

Although emerging mental health studies are beginning to analyze first-generation students' psychological well-being (Wang & Castañeda-Sound, 2008), most studies related to the use of campus counseling services have focused primarily on differences in usage among other groups (Sullivan, Ramos-Sánchez, & McIver, 2007), often finding that men and people of color underutilize mental health services. Because first-generation students are disproportionally students of color, on the basis of prior research, we may expect that first-generation students also underutilize mental health counseling services on college campuses; however, further investigation is needed in this area to test that hypothesis.

Method

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Literature Review
  4. Method
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. Conclusion
  8. References

Participants

The survey was administered in the spring of 2009 to 145,150 students across six large public research institutions. The institutional-level response rates varied from 26% to 69%, for an overall response rate of 40% (n = 58,017). Data included in our study came from demographic items and core items focusing on students' satisfaction with their academic and social experiences. The sample included more female students (59%) than male students (41%). The race/ethnicity of the respondents was as follows: 61.3% White, 16.2% Asian, 9.3% Chicano/Latino, 6.2% African American, 5% other race/unknown, and 2.1% international.

Although all students were asked questions related to their sense of belonging and satisfaction, 20% to 30% of participants were randomly assigned to answer questions related to student life and development, which included questions related to their mental health and use of mental health and counseling centers on campus.

Operationalizing First-Generation Students

Students were asked about the highest level of education reached by their mothers and fathers, including whether their parents had achieved their education inside or outside of the United States. We defined first-generation students as those students whose parents had not earned a baccalaureate degree or equivalent; non-first-generation students had parents who had earned a baccalaureate degree or higher. Among the sample participants overall, 27.3% were first-generation and 72.7% were non-first-generation. For those who answered the student life and development module, 28.2% were first-generation and 71.8% were non-first-generation.

Instrument

The Student Experience in the Research University (SERU) survey is based at the Center for Studies of Higher Education and is administered by the Office of Student Research and Campus Surveys at the University of California (UC), Berkeley. The survey was developed in 2002 and has been widely used by the UC system since 2004, where it is known as the University of California Student Experience Survey (UCUES). In 2008, the SERU project expanded the number of institutions administering the survey, forming a consortium of large research universities. Although still referred to as the UCUES in the UC system, the survey instrument is largely known outside of the UC system as the SERU survey. The SERU survey sampling plan is a census scan of the undergraduate experience. All undergraduates enrolled in the spring term who were also enrolled at the end of the prior term are included in this web-based questionnaire, with the majority of communication occurring via e-mail.

The SERU survey contains nearly 600 individual items. Each student answers a set of core questions and is randomly assigned one of four modules containing supplemental items. The core questions focus on time use, evaluation of a student's major, campus climate and satisfaction, and four thematic research areas: academic engagement, civic engagement, global knowledge and skills, and student life and development. The SERU survey contains eight principal factors, each with two or more subfactors, drawn from a factor analysis performed using a random sample of all respondents. Student factor and subfactor scores were calculated by standardizing responses, computing the mean of items in the factor or subfactor, and then reporting on a scale with a mean of five and standard deviation of two (Chatman, 2009). Internal consistency of the factor described in our study, sense of belonging and satisfaction, is measured by Cronbach's alpha at .84 (Chatman, 2009). Items used in this factor include the following:

Please rate your level of satisfaction with the following aspects of your university education:

  • Campus grade point average
  • Overall social experience
  • Overall academic experience
  • Value of your education for the price you're paying

Please rate your level of agreement with the following statements:

  • I feel that I belong on this campus.
  • Knowing what I know now, I would still choose to enroll at this campus.

Additionally, each module focuses on one of the four thematic areas for more in-depth assessment; institutions may also include a wild card module or topics of specific interest to the campus. Our study examined student responses from the student life and development module; specifically, we analyzed the following questions to examine students' mental health:

  • During this academic year, how often has feeling depressed, stressed, or upset been an obstacle to your schoolwork or academic success?
  • In this academic year, what was your experience with the university counseling center's counseling and psychological services?
  • If you might have needed this service but didn't use this service, why not?

Results

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Literature Review
  4. Method
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. Conclusion
  8. References

Sense of Belonging and Satisfaction

Analysis of variance was used to test for significant differences between first-generation and non-first-generation students' sense of belonging on campus. The degree to which students felt that they belonged on campus differed significantly between the two groups, with non-first-generation students reporting a greater sense of belonging on campus, on average, compared with first-generation students (see Table 1). The effect size, as measured by Cohen's d, indicated that these differences were small (d = −0.13).

Table 1. Differences Between First-Generation and Non-First-Generation Students in Sense of Belonging and Mental Health
 Non-First-GenerationFirst-Generation  
FactornMSDnMSDFd
  1. aThe resulting factor scores are standardized and reported on a scale of 1 to 9 with a mean of 5 and a standard deviation of 2. bThe response scale range is 1–6 (1 = never, 6 = very often).

  2. *p < .001.

Sense of Belonginga40,2535.501.7215,2985.281.75182.32*−0.13
Mental Healthb8,4693.271.363,3203.441.3837.80*−0.24

Mental Health

Analysis of variance was used to test for significant differences between first-generation and non-first-generation students' mental health (level of depression or stress as an obstacle to academic success). Levels of mental health differed significantly across the two groups, with non-first-generation students reporting lower levels of depression/stress on average compared with first-generation students (see Table 1). The effect size, as measured by Cohen's d, indicated that these differences were small (d = −0.24).

Needing, But Not Using, Mental Health Services

There was a significant association between first-generation and non-first-generation students with regard to whether they indicated needing, but not using, mental health and counseling centers on campus. First-generation students indicated needing but not using services at a higher rate than non-first-generation students (see Table 2). The most frequent reasons first-generation students reported for not using counseling services (even though they needed services) included that the location was inconvenient (84.5%), they had never heard of it (80.4%), the hours were inconvenient (77.8%), and they did not have enough time (76.1%).

Table 2. Cross Tabulation of First-Generation Status and Experience With University Counseling and Psychological Services
 Non-First-GenerationFirst-Generationχ2
Variablen%n%
  1. Note. Based on the question, “In this academic year, what was your experience with university health service counseling and psychological services?”

  2. *p < .001.

Did not need6,42875.92,38471.721.95*
Needed, but did not use1,12813.352415.7 
Used the service at least once91410.841712.5 

Sense of Belonging and Mental Health

Our research questions addressed a potential connection between students' sense of belonging and satisfaction and their level of depression or stress; therefore, ordinary least squares regression was used to determine if a relationship existed between these two factors. We found that sense of belonging significantly and negatively predicted the frequency with which students reported feeling depressed, stressed, or upset, with sense of belonging explaining 8.6% of the variation in mental health, F(1, 11,596) = 1,085.73, R2 = .086, p < .001 (see Table 2). The results suggest that every one-unit increase in sense of belonging was associated with a 0.23-unit decrease in the frequency with which students reported feeling stressed, depressed, or upset during the academic year. The small, negative relationship suggested that students' integration on campus was related to their overall mental health and well-being; students who had a greater sense of belonging on campus reported fewer instances of feeling stressed, depressed, or upset. Because depression and stress are such complex constructs, it is not surprising that sense of belonging explained only 8.6% of the variance in mental health indicators.

Discussion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Literature Review
  4. Method
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. Conclusion
  8. References

The findings indicate that first-generation students tend to have lower ratings of sense of belonging and satisfaction than non-first-generation students. Additionally, we found that sense of belonging is significantly related to mental health (level of depression and stress) among students and that first-generation students have a higher frequency of reporting feeling stressed, depressed, or upset compared with non-first-generation students. Further inquiry needs to be conducted to explore the reasons why these findings exist among first-generation students at large research universities. One potential reason could be that many first-generation students are more likely to live off campus and commute to campus (Pascarella et al., 2004; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005). This could inhibit opportunities for academic and social engagement (with greater social engagement potentially leading to a higher sense of belonging and satisfaction). Additionally, given the large size of these institutions, it may be more difficult for first-generation students to establish meaningful social connections and become socially integrated on campus.

The data related to mental health usage suggest that both first-generation and non-first-generation students have mental health needs that are not being met (with first-generation students reporting slightly higher responses of needing but not using services). The relationship between sense of belonging and mental health asserts that students' sense of belonging on campus affects more than their academic achievement and retention, as is typically modeled in the literature. Instead, sense of belonging appears to have an influence on students' mental health, a factor that certainly influences other domains of college students' experience.

Finally, we found that first-generation students were less likely than their non-first-generation peers to seek out campus mental health services even though they were aware that they needed to use the services. Additionally, examination of the factors related to why students did not use services revealed that a surprisingly high number of first-generation students found the location and hours to be inconvenient, had never heard of the services, or did not have time to seek out services. Further analysis needs to be conducted on the reasons why students opted not to use counseling services.

Implications and Strategies for College Counselors

The findings suggest that it is vital that college counselors, especially at large research institutions, address the unique mental health issues that first-generation students often encounter. Also, it is important that counselors identify and engage in targeted outreach strategies to reach undergraduate students, primarily first-generation students. We believe that college counselors can play a significant role in these outreach efforts. First, it is imperative that college counselors be familiar with first-generation student demographics, traits, trends in enrollment, and the common issues that students face. As noted previously, Lippincott and German (2007) described several factors that affect first-generation students and their transition to college, including issues related to their family of origin, academic functioning (e.g., time management, skill-related concerns), and adjustment to college (e.g., being away from one's community, meeting new friends). Other researchers have suggested worthy strategies counselors can use to help first-generation learners succeed and to address mental health concerns, including offering group counseling and psychoeducational workshops (Ramos-Sánchez & Nichols, 2007; Wang & Castañeda-Sound, 2008). Students may feel more comfortable in group counseling arrangements rather than in individual counseling settings. Other practitioners have suggested using narrative approaches (Brott, 2005; Stebleton, 2010) and the inclusion of family members to explore genograms and other approaches to best assist first-generation students.

Second, college counselors should partner with programs such as TRiO or summer bridge, which have a high enrollment of first-generation students (Stebleton & Schmidt, 2010). These types of programs aim to enhance both the academic and social engagement (including a stronger sense of belonging on campus) of students. College counselors and leaders of these programs could collaborate to offer workshops on mental health issues and how to access mental health services on campus. Counselors can continue to develop partnerships with other student affairs practitioners and student services across campus to help promote awareness of mental health options for students. Potential collaborators might include new student orientation programs, residential hall staff, career services, academic advising units, student clubs and organizations, and multicultural student affairs. Additionally, messages about mental health should be integrated intermittently into outreach activities with student services on a regular basis. There likely continues to be a stigma around the use of mental health services; one way to break down these misperceptions is for counselors to be more visible in the campus community and share information about the services.

Third, although most counseling centers already engage in some form of outreach, college counselors might consider further outreach activities to help engage first-generation students and to educate student groups about mental health issues. Acting proactively, college counselors could opt to reach out to key faculty members who might serve as allies for the counseling center on campus. One of the most effective ways to reach students is where they are most captive—in the classroom. For example, faculty in the psychology department and counselors may collaborate on a unit addressing access issues to mental health services, including potential disparities in the mental health system. College counselors can facilitate these partnerships with student affairs and faculty by providing professional development and training opportunities for staff and instructors. Information about referral processes and procedures can serve as helpful information for instructors (e.g., location of counseling centers). Some large research universities have multiple counseling resources (e.g., a mental health center that offers assistance and a separate campus counseling center); this can create confusion for staff and students regarding which service is most appropriate to use given a student's unique case. As a result of this uncertainty, it is likely that many students opt not to use any counseling service at all.

Fourth, college counselors can help shape the messages within promotional materials (e.g., flyers, handouts, online notices) about counseling services. A positive, prevention-focused message may help to create awareness and lower the stigma often attached to using mental health services. An overarching message might be that “many students seek out services on campus—and it's accessible to you.” An additional message should be that taking advantage of mental health services can lead to greater student achievement and success (Gerdes & Mallinckrodt, 1994; Kitzrow, 2009). Although students might not relate to statistics citing retention rates, they could be more likely to seek services if they can see a direct, tangible positive outcome of using services, such as meeting personal achievement goals (e.g., a high grade point average). Related to marketing and positive promotion of services, some universities and colleges have robust student-led organizations, such as Active Minds and other peer mentoring initiatives, which help to bring awareness about student mental health concerns. Counselors can get actively involved with these organizations to help offer workshops, facilitate groups, and promote services at monthly meetings.

Finally, there is evidence to suggest that first-generation students significantly benefit from high-impact educational practices (Kuh, 2008). Many of these practices—including learning communities, service learning opportunities, common book experiences, study abroad programs, writing intensive courses, and 1st-year seminars—enhance academic and social engagement. Furthermore, these options tend to promote a sense of belonging and affiliation toward fellow students, faculty members, and the institution. These high-impact educational practices have been demonstrated to have compensatory effects for first-generation and underserved student populations (Kuh, 2008). In other words, first-generation students tend to experience greater gains from participation than non-first-generation students. One strategy to facilitate this sense of belonging is by intentionally creating opportunities that allow for both academic and social engagement. College counselors can encourage first-generation students to get actively involved in high-impact experiences by intentionally advising and referring students toward these opportunities on campus. Clearly, the challenge for campus mental health providers will be to do more with less while moving forward. Despite the realities of increased student demand for mental services and limitations on funding, we strongly believe that college counselors play a critical role in helping to engage and retain first-generation students.

Limitations and Suggestions for Future Research

There are several limitations of our study that should be taken into consideration when analyzing the outcomes and generalizing to other institutions. The SERU is a census survey that relies solely on self-reported student data. Porter (2009) outlined and critiqued the challenges of interpreting self-reported student data on surveys that aim to understand student engagement behaviors and measures. Furthermore, the overall response rates for the 2009 administration were acceptable, but could have been higher. The questions related to mental health were from one of several modules that students were asked to complete. Although there were several questions that address mental health issues and behaviors, the tool was not intended to be a comprehensive mental health instrument or assessment. The intent was to gain an overview of students' experiences related to mental health issues on campus. In addition to quantitative survey data, counseling practitioners and scholars should conduct qualitative studies that explore the meaning of first-generation students' lived experiences related to belonging and mental health issues.

Interview data can complement the extensive data that are regularly collected by institutions with instruments such as the SERU survey and the National Survey of Student Engagement. Scholars could explore first-generation students' 1st-year experiences and then interview them again each year until graduation. Regarding inquiries about high-impact practices, a future study could be conducted to explore the impact of first-generation students who participated in high-impact practices and their perceived sense of belonging as well as mental health status. Additional studies can be conducted on the long-term impact, directly or indirectly, that college counselors can have on first-generation student engagement and student retention. Finally, future studies should explore the specific reasons that first-generation students opt not to use mental health services—even though they acknowledge that they would likely benefit from them.

Conclusion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Literature Review
  4. Method
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. Conclusion
  8. References

As indicated previously, first-generation students often face unique challenges when they enter postsecondary institutions, specifically 4-year research universities. College counselors are in an ideal position to help address these concerns. Most students, including first-generation students, strive to find a sense of belonging on campus; they want to feel that they matter to others. Counselors should strive to get involved with student affairs initiatives to more actively play a direct role in reaching first-generation students. Perhaps of greater concern, many first-generation students need mental health services but are not accessing services to help address their concerns. A greater awareness of the services available and how best to access them (e.g., location, hours) is likely needed, yet merits further inquiry. Counselors and other student affairs professionals on campus can devise and implement strategies for helping to promote positive messages around mental health issues to the university community. With the growth in the number of first-generation and other underserved student populations on campuses across the nation, it is increasingly important for them to feel comfortable accessing needed mental health and counseling services.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Literature Review
  4. Method
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. Conclusion
  8. References
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