Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Higher Education Administration

Major Professor

Terry Ishitani

Committee Members

J. Patrick Biddix, Michael Fitzgerald, Norma T. Mertz


This research utilized ten years of National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) data to identify differences between first- and non-first-generation students’ relationship with supportive campus environment variables and learning outcomes. The dataset included 3,796 non-first-generation and 1,844 first-generation students that attended a research intensive public institution between 2003 and 2011. The main dependent variable was a composite measure of student learning gains across four areas: writing, speaking, thinking critically and analyzing numerical or statistical information. The results indicated that while supportive campus environments are critical for all students, first-generation students showed higher and more consistent statistical associations with campus environment variables measuring faculty and peer relationships as compared to non-first-generation students that showed highly significant relationships with variables measuring support from campus administration or support personnel. This finding could lend support to theories that first-generation students come to campus with less social capital related to the inner workings of university environments and as a result rely more heavily on peer and faculty relationships for increased learning outcomes as compared to non-first-generation students.

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