The design that was used in this study was a phenomenological approach to find the underlying meaning of the experience of being a first-generation student. The design focused on establishing the factors that influenced first-generation students’ academic persistence and retention. This approach assisted the researcher to understand the importance of individual experiences together with deriving a general meaning based on the shared individual experiences. The core value of this design is that analysis does not begin with an objective world out there as it is evident in many analyses of natural and social sciences, but rather begins at mental directedness (Schutz, 1970). This mental directedness is the phenomenological reduction as the means of securing knowledge on the essence of things.
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Statement of the Problem
The first-generation student academic persistence and retention has been a challenge and has made these students be considered at risk. Family, home culture, financial issues, internal locus of control, interactions and communication of information has exhibited a definite effect on first-generation students’ persistence in institution of higher education (Caelli, 2001). Student decision on whether to join a higher learning institution is in most cases affected by the level of education of the parents. For the student whose parent did not go to a higher institution, it is often challenging for them to go to such institution and remain in the institution. First-generation students are found in all social strata of the society but are common among the low socio-income stratum and the minorities. The relationship between economic development and educational achievement is evident in many statistical works. Though many bureau statistics scale poverty about financial abilities, poverty can also be measured in terms of the extent a person does without resources (Payne, 2005). These resources include interactions/role models, emotional, and spiritual support among others. The success of these students is determined by these resources.
The main purpose of the study was to establish the experiences the first-generation students had in college and the challenges they were facing in coping with their college life. These experiences were to be used to determine the students’ academic performance, persistence, and college retention level.
Sample and Sampling techniques
The study focused on first-generation students. These students were from the Appalachian state, West of Virginia, and had completed at least a semester in the college. The students were selected from a category of students who received support from Student Support Services (SSS) which had two hundred students. With the help of the Director of SSS, those students who fitted in the criteria of the research were contacted numbering a hundred and twenty-one students. Out of the contacted, 21 students filled out a survey in which 16 of them fully satisfied the study criteria as being first-generation students. Out of the 16, nine students including five males and four females participated in the study. Out of the nine participants, only one was an African American and three were nontraditional students.
The sampling technique employed was stratified through random sampling. The college population was divided into two, those who benefited from SSS and those who did not. Students benefiting from SSS were picked and divided again according to their origin and stay in the college. Students from Appalachian state and who had completed two semesters were selected. The sample was again divided with those students whose parents had not attended college and out of those students, a simple random was carried out.
Data were collected by the use of different instruments including the use of questionnaires, interviews, and focused group discussions. In the beginning, the respondent was issued with questions which they were expected to respond to freely. Because the structured questions were limiting unlike the open-ended questions, interviews were used to close this gap and enable follow-up. To ensure that all the information given during interview sessions was captured, an audio recording was done wherever a participant gave consent to be recorded. Interview questions were formulated to avoid influencing the result. Focus Group Discussion (FGD) was also used and it provided an avenue for students to interact on the same themes as in the interview phase. The FGD provided a new perspective and confirmed theories on the initial data. Based on the fact that this study used phenomenological design, then the choice of data collection instruments was appropriate. This is because the instruments allowed the participant to give their own experiences without restriction and their responses recorded. The Questionnaires used were not restricted to any given answer but rather were open to individual experience.
During the interview, transcription, and reflection phase, the researcher had identified key factors developing from the data. Five factors (themes) were identified and were coded with color with each factor being matched with a given color. Using this color code scheme a verification of the flow of the themes with the data was carried out. Consistency with phenomenological design to find meaningful common experiences was also verified. Identification of important statements was carried out and was arranged into meaningful units. Verification of findings was done through member checks and detailed description was achieved through the use of direct words from the mouth of the respondents.
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There are ethical issues that might exist within this study. The first issue is that of confidentiality. Ethically only the people who are conducting the survey are supposed to know the identity of the participant. In this study, the researcher has given participant profiles making the identity of the participant to be known by everyone who read the study. Also the issues of direct quotation which must be accompanied by the name of the person who said those words do expose the identity of the participant. Another ethical issue that might arise from this study is the protection of the respondent both physically and psychologically. Even when the participant has volunteered to participate in some cases they get carried away to a point of needing protection from themselves and others (Bloor, 1997). In this study, during FGD participants gave their own experiences and this may harm them psychologically as they remember their struggle with their parents. It also exposes their identity to other subjects. (Bloor, 1997).
Validity of the Study
The truthfulness of the study was verified in several ways. According to the recommendation of Creswell, member checks were carried out with the focus group aiming at confirming the themes and conclusions (Creswell, 2006). The use of detailed description including direct quotation of the participant also resulted in providing a rich and thick description of the themes. Study validation was also carried out through triangulation where comparison of conclusions in line with multiple data sources and literature review was done (Bloor, 1997). The data was also not skewed in any way to fit preconceived ideas/themes. For instance, literature had shown that first-generation students might be struggling with a family relationship. These contrasts of literature and study findings were acknowledged. Bracketing of the researcher’s presumption that first-generation students struggle with college experiences, and basing the study purely on the student experiences has also helped invalidate the study (Creswell, 2006).
Bloor, M. (1997). Techniques of Validation in Qualitative Research. London: Sage.
Caelli, K. (2001). Engaging with phenomenology. Quantitative Health Research, 11, 273-282.
Creswell, J.W. (2006). Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design. CA: sage Publisher.
Payne, R.K. (2005). Framework of Understanding Poverty. TX: Process Inc.
Schutz, A. (1970). Phenomenology and Social Relations. Chicago: Chicago University Press.