Thestudy aimed to examine the perceived academic obstacles experiencedby first-generation students in comparison to non-first generationstudents in research universities. The study involved 58,017 studentsfrom six large public universities noted for very high researchactivity by the Carnegie Foundation. The sample was not equallybalanced across the universities as response rates varied from theoriginal targeted 145,150 students. The sample comprised of 58.7%females, 60.1% white, 17.9% Asian, 7.7% Chicano-Latino, 5.8% AfricanAmerican, 5.1% other race/unknown, and 2.9% International. Of these26.4% were first generation students and the others non-firstgeneration.
Thestudy assessed the perceived academic obstacles in research effortsby participants. The research takes a grounded theory approach wherethe authors make no hypothesis beforehand. They seek to collect datafirst and analyze it to develop a theory. In collecting data,participants used emailed questionnaires. The survey questionnairesand modules relied on the Student Experience in the ResearchUniversity (SERU) as an instrument. The SERU survey comprises of 600items organized into four modules relevant to a given institution’sspecific questions. The themes concentrated on are academicengagement, community and civic engagement, global awareness andskills, and student life and development.
Datawas analyzed by testing for normality and homogeneity of variance inthe various factors. The Kolmogorov-Smirnov test was further used totest for any significance difference in the two data sets. The datawas represented in histograms and Q-Q plots which assisted in furtheranalysis of skewness. The results indicated that there was astatistically significant difference between the first-generation andnon-first-generation students’ perceived academic obstacles theyencounter in their research. First-generation students reportedhigher instance of academic obstacles except in competing jobresponsibilities where non-first-generation students recorded this asgreater perceived obstacle.
Thecurrent study explores differences in academic obstacles in researchexperienced by first-generation and non-first-generation students.Future research should address how effective or what is the perceivedefficiency of the measures put in place by universities to addresssuch difficulties encountered. Another possible area of futureresearch would be to assess the impact of perceived academicobstacles in research on mental health of students. It is commonknowledge that some university students experience stress anddepression linked to their academic life.
Theauthors ignored the role of universities and especially theirinduction programs and support systems in influencing the perceivedacademic difficulties that both sets of students experience. Aninstitution with poor student support programs would report higherperceived academic obstacles in research as opposed to another. Thisaffects credibility of the findings. Another bias is the selfreported approach to the responses. Students maybe overdramatic inself-reporting on experienced difficulties. Some students maybedishonest in their responses and self report non existencedifficulties to criticize or vice versa.
Thestudy ignores a constant challenge in academic circles that is likelyto face students, the temptation to plagiarize or cheat in research.It is likely the end result of the perceived difficulties experiencedby first generation students or even the non-first generationstudents would drive them to seek a simpler alternative and engage inacademic dishonesty. I feel this is a key concern that the studyfailed to address.
Thefindings have a lot of implications on the education sector. For theresearch universities, there is need to provide more academic supportto first generation students. For education policy planners andcurriculum developers, the study findings imply that there is need tointroduce students to research gradually from an early age such assenior years of high school to improve competence in research.
Stebleton,M. J. & Soria, K. M. (2012). Breaking down barriers: academicobstacles of first-
generationstudents at research universities. LearningAssistance Review,17(2), 7-20.