Pressure to succeed?

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Publication: Diverse Issues in Higher Education
Author: Davis, Crystal D
Date published: April 12, 2012

Is colleges' focus on student independence inadvertently hurting the academic performance of first-generation college students? A study out of Northwestern University has found that a "cultural mismatch" results when working-class students who may hail from a culture that promotes interdependence attend colleges that emphasize student independence and individualism. Students who attended college as part of a quest for independence had higher grades their first and second years, while those students who attended to help out family and be a role model didn't fare as well, researchers discovered. But when colleges highlighted such interdependent norms as being part of a community and connecting to others, the performance gap between first-generation students and other students closed, researchers found. "Many students from working-class families are influenced by limited financial resources and lack an economic safety net, and, thus, must rely on family and friends for support. Thus, these students' expectations for college center around interdependent motives such as working together, connecting to others, and giving back," Nicole Stephens, the study's lead author and assistant professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern, explained in a statement. "Given the largely independent college culture ... we questioned whether universities provide students from these different backgrounds with an equal chance of success."

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