A case study examining the Social Capital of first-generation students via a dual enrollment program
Contreras, Michael R
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Background: Partnerships between public school districts and local community colleges known as dual enrollment programs have led to successful college transition experiences for students. These programs have proven results for student groups that may otherwise struggle to achieve postsecondary success, including first-generation students. First-generation students are those whose parents have no college education (Pascarella et al., 2003) or whose parents have not completed a four-year college degree prior to the student enrolling in college (Collier & Morgan, 2007). An (2013) argued that first-generation students who participated in a dual enrollment program were more likely to earn their college degree when compared to those who had not participated. Additionally, first-generation students were better able to acclimate to a college environment if they participated in a dual enrollment program (Loftin, 2012; Morrison, 2008; Swanson, 2010; Terenzini et al.,1996). Purpose: The purpose of this case study was to investigate the social capital supports and resources provided to first-generation students via a dual enrollment program. Perceptions of social capital resources and supports were compared in two ways: a) between multi-generation students and first-generation students; and b) between program administrators and first-generation students. Methods: This qualitative case study, which also utilized descriptive and interview data, sought to gather the perspectives of program administrators, first-generation students, and multi-generation students. Program administrators who were interviewed were responsible for different aspects of the dual enrollment program at the PISD or GHS. Two student focus groups were also hosted, one for first-generation students and one for multi-generation students. Participating students were seniors who enrolled in at least two dual enrollment courses. To ensure the true essence of each interview was captured, a member-checking process was conducted. The descriptive data were analyzed to develop a comprehensive picture of the students’ (i.e. race/ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status) who participated in the dual enrollment program. Findings: When comparing the perceptions of program administrators to those of the first-generation student group, parallels and disparities were found. First-generation students felt supported by various institutional agents, including teachers, counselors, and administrators. Their level of support and how they offered support, however, depended on the agent. The student identification process used for the dual enrollment program coupled with first-generation students’ lack of understanding were found to be the most impactful disparities of the study. Finally, first-generation students relied more heavily on their peers for social capital supports than any other institutional agent. Differences were also found between the two student groups. First-generation students depended on their peers, and multi-generational students were more dependent on personal college visits, university websites, and parents. Additionally, first-generation students perceived the discounted cost of courses was a burden for their parents due to financial hardships; however, multi-generation students perceived the dual enrollment courses were a cost savings for their parents. Finally, multi-generation students were found to be more aware of the implications of the elementary and middle school courses and grades needed for access into the program. The results of the descriptive data demonstrated that the multi-generation students were enrolled in more advanced level courses than their first-generation peers. Conclusion: This case study demonstrated that the dual enrollment program is successful; however, there are areas of improvement that could enhance the program. Educational institutions who support a dual enrollment program have the opportunity and responsibility of propelling them into their brighter futures.