First-generation students—those students whose parents have no post-secondary education—currently represent a large percentage of the student population at both college and university levels.
According to predominantly American studies, the particular challenges faced by these young people in adapting to post-secondary life put them at risk of abandoning their studies. The results of this study of approximately 2,000 students at Université du Québec à Montréal show that, while they perform as well as others during their first year, first-generation students are significantly more likely not to enroll the following year. The picture emerging from our study is that they experience more challenges than other students, but they also have unexpected strengths.
These students experience more challenges than others, but they also have unexpected strengths.
Their main challenges relate to financial concerns and the need to work long hours in addition to their studies; a sense of insecurity within the academic environment; a sense of having less support from friends and parents; the impression that their parents are less able to guide them in making decisions; and culture shock marked by a sense of disloyalty to their home communities.
When it comes to their strengths, these students report being more clear about their choice of career and have a greater appreciation for their education than their colleagues: they report more positive feelings, attach more importance and a greater sense of meaning to their education, feel more in control of their studies and more satisfied with the success they have achieved thus far.
Our results suggest that providing adequate financial support specifically for first-generation students and introducing measures aimed at helping them to deal with their challenges and make the most of their strengths within the university setting could encourage them to pursue their studies.
Thérèse Bouffard, Université du Québec à Montréal
Deposit of the research report: September 2012