A one-hour intervention focused on “difference education” can close the achievement gap by 63 percent for first-generation students, according to a study described in an upcoming article in Psychological Science.
In the difference-education intervention, third- and fourth-year student panelists discussed problems and success strategies that they linked to their social class. In the “standard intervention,” they discussed the same issues without talking about their family backgrounds.
A panelist in the difference-education intervention said: “Because my parents didn’t go to college, they weren’t always able to provide me the advice I needed. So it was sometimes hard to figure out what classes to take and what I wanted to do in the future. But there are other people who can provide that advice, and I learned that I needed to rely on my adviser more than other students.”
A panelist in the standard intervention also talked about the difficulty of choosing classes and of the need to rely on professors, mentors and other campus resources but did not mention her social class background.
First-generation students who’d heard advice based on social class at the start of the year earned higher grades and “reported better outcomes on psychological well-being, social fit, perspective taking and appreciation of diversity” than similar students who’d received the standard intervention. They were more likely to meet with professors outside of class and get extra tutoring.
“Students whose parents have earned a degree come to college with lots of know-how and cultural capital that helps them navigate college’s often unspoken rules,” Northwestern psychologist Nicole Stephens says. “Talking about social class gives first-generation students a framework to understand how their own backgrounds matter in college, what unique obstacles they may face and see that people like them can be successful.”