Stress, Coping, And Perceived Academic Goal Progress In .

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Journal of Diversity in Higher Education2018, Vol. 11, No. 4, 436 – 450 2017 National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education1938-8926/18/ 12.00, Coping, and Perceived Academic Goal Progress inFirst-Generation College Students: The Role ofInstitutional SupportsPatton O. Garriott and Stephanie NisleThis document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.University of DenverThis study examined stress, coping, and perceived academic goal progress among first(n 363) and continuing-generation (n 325) college students. Stress was significantly related to institutional supports for first- but not continuing-generation students.In addition, institutional supports explained the relation between stress and perceivedacademic goal progress for first- but not continuing-generation college students. Reflective coping explained the relation between stress and perceived academic goalprogress for first- and continuing-generation college students. Contrary to hypotheses,friend and family supports did not explain the relation between stress and perceivedacademic goal progress for first- or continuing-generation college students. Findingspoint to the relative importance of institutional supports in understanding links betweenstress and perceived academic goal progress for first-generation college students.Keywords: stress, coping, institutional supports, first-generation college students,conditional process analysisAccording to recent estimates, 27% of graduating high school seniors and one in every sixstudents on a university campus is a firstgeneration college student (U.S. Department ofEducation, 2012). Whereas there are a numberof definitions regarding who qualifies as a “firstgeneration college student,” for the purposes ofthis study, first-generation students are definedas individuals whose parents did not obtain abachelor’s degree (Davis, 2010; Engle, 2007).This definition was adopted given it is mostcommonly used by higher education institutionsin designating first-generation student status(Davis, 2010). Conversely, continuing-generation students are defined as students who have atleast one parent who has graduated with a bachelor’s degree (Davis, 2010). Research suggeststhat prospective first-generation college students, or students who would be the first in theirThis article was published Online First August 17, 2017.Patton O. Garriott and Stephanie Nisle, Department ofCounseling Psychology, University of Denver.Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Patton O. Garriott, Department of CounselingPsychology, University of Denver, 201A Ruffatto Hall,Denver, CO 80208. E-mail: pat.garriott@du.edu436family to achieve a bachelor’s degree, endorsehigh educational aspirations (Garriott, Flores, &Martens, 2013). However, studies consistentlyindicate that first-generation students completebachelor’s degrees at approximately half therate of their continuing-generation peers(DeAngelo, Franke, Hurtado, Pryor, & Tran,2011; Engle & Tinto, 2008).College experiences that impede firstgeneration students’ ability to progress towardtheir academic goals in a timely fashion havebeen implicated in their lower college completion rates (Pascarella, Pierson, Wolniak, &Terenzini, 2004), underscoring the need for research to not only focus on college access, butalso the academic progress of first-generationstudents. With the push for colleges to achievehigher retention and graduation rates (U.S. Department of Education, 2015), and a collegedegree serving as a critical pathway to economic and social mobility (Pew Research Center, 2014), understanding factors that predict theperceived academic goal progress of firstgeneration students is essential. In this study,perceived academic goal progress was examined, which has been described as, “the perception one is making progress toward meetingone’s personal goals” (Lent, 2004, p. 495).

This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.FIRST-GENERATION INSTITUTIONAL SUPPORTSResearchers have drawn attention to the waysin which sociocultural systems of advantageand disadvantage differentially impact first- andcontinuing-generation college students’ experiences on college campuses (Stephens, Hamedani, & Destin, 2014; Stephens, Townsend,Markus, & Phillips, 2012). For example, firstgeneration student status is linked to experiences with classism (Allan, Garriott, & Keene,2016). Similarly, the lower sense of belongingand access to social capital many firstgeneration students experience on college campuses may impact their access to coping resources as they navigate the challenges of beingthe first in their family to obtain a bachelor’sdegree. Therefore, this study examined stress,coping, and perceived academic goal progressin first- and continuing-generation college students.Stress and Coping in First-GenerationCollege StudentsFirst-generation and continuing-generationstudents each face common stressors associatedwith college adjustment. These may include,but are not limited to, living away from homefor the first time; adjusting to the rigor of college-level classes, developing friendships, andtime management. However, first-generationstudents also face unique challenges specific totheir social class backgrounds. For example,first-generation students often do not have parents who are able to help them navigate thecollege environment (Davis, 2010). Additionalresearch suggests the cultural mismatch between higher education institutions’ individualistic norms and first-generation students’ interdependent motives for attending college helpexplain their relatively lower academic performance (Stephens, Fryberg, Markus, Johnson, &Covarrubias, 2012). Other unique stressorsfirst-generation college students may face include increased work demands, greater familypressures, and increased financial stress (Cutrona, Cole, Colangelo, Assouline, & Russell,1994; Engle, Bermeo, & O’Brien, 2006; Engle& Tinto, 2008; Ishitani, 2006). It has been suggested that the culmination of these factors mayserve as a barrier to first-generation collegestudents’ academic progress (Engle et al.,2006). Managing perceived stress is an important area of study that, with few notable excep-437tions (e.g., Barry, Hudley, Kelly, & Cho, 2009;Sy, Fong, Carter, Boehme, & Alpert, 2011), hasnot been examined among first-generation college students.In one of the few studies to examine stress infirst-generation students, researchers found thatfirst-generation female students receiving highlevels of parental emotional support reportedlower levels of stress (Sy et al., 2011). In anexperimental study, individualistic universitynorms led to increases in first-generation students’ cortisol levels (i.e., biological markers ofan individual’s stress response) and decreases inperformance on an academic-related task (Stephens et al., 2012). However, variables thatmight explain the relation between stress andperceived academic goal progress in uniqueways for first- and continuing-generation college students have not yet been investigated.This area of research would advance the field bypotentially identifying targets for interventionefforts on college campuses with first-generation students.Coping is commonly investigated in studiesof stress, with research indicating coping mayexplain the relation between stress and psychosocial outcomes among university students (Sawatzky et al., 2012). In a qualitative study ofstress and coping with first-generation collegestudents, researchers found that participantsidentified individual coping strategies as well asenvironmental resources as important to theirhandling of stressful life events (Phinney &Haas, 2003). Thus, we included both these coping resources in the present study.Theoretical FrameworkThe theoretical framework for this study wasinformed by the transtheoretical model of stressand coping (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984), as wellas relevant literature on the experiences of firstgeneration college students (e.g., Davis, 2010;Engle, 2007; Stephens et al., 2012; Ward, Siegel, & Davenport, 2012). The transtheoreticalmodel of stress and coping proposes that therelation between stress and various psychosocial outcomes, including environmental mastery(e.g., academic goal progress) may be explainedby coping resources (Folkman & Lazarus,1985). Coping resources refer to both personalpsychological (e.g., problem-solving orientation) and social resources (e.g., social networks

This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.438GARRIOTT AND NISLEand mentors) that are available to aid in one’smanagement of stressful life events. The transtheoretical model adopts a process approach toexamining stress, in which stimuli are first perceived as stressful (i.e., primary appraisal). Individuals next assess available coping resources(i.e., secondary appraisal) and subsequently engage in coping strategies in an effort to alleviatestress (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). It is assumedthat the greater number of coping resourcesperceived as available to the individual, themore likely they will be to successfully managestressful life events (Lazarus & Folkman,1984).Importantly, it has been suggested that theprocess by which one copes with stress may bedependent upon both the individual and thecontext in question (Lazarus, 1993). The relation between stress and institutional supportsmay be relatively strong for first-generation college students, given campus supports have beendescribed as critical to their well-being and academic success (Longwell-Grice & LongwellGrice, 2007). Conversely, the relation betweenstress and institutional supports may be weakerfor continuing-generation students, given theirincreased access to, and knowledge of, forms ofsocial and cultural capital on college campuses(e.g., academic support services, advising, financial aid) prior to entering college (Davis,2010).Similarly, friend and family support for attending college may be more strongly related tostress in first- compared to continuing-generation college students. Specifically, firstgeneration students may receive mixed messages from friends and family regarding theircollege attendance due to ambivalence on thepart of others about their social class mobility(Ward et al., 2012). Conversely, continuinggeneration college students may experience college attendance as more of a “given,” and therefore experience fewer concerns from friendsand family related to their college attendance(Covarrubias & Fryberg, 2015). In a study ofcollege students’ disclosures of college experiences, researchers found that first-generationstudents reported significantly fewer disclosuresto family, friends at home, and friends at schoolcompared to their continuing-generation peers(Barry, Hudley, Kelly, & Cho, 2009). Additional research has shown that first-generationstudents report lower levels of parent emotionaland informational supports compared to theircontinuing-generation peers (Sy et al., 2011)and may engage in lower levels of sociallyengaged coping than continuing-generation students (Mehta, Newbold, & O’Rourke, 2011).Individual coping resources were also included in this study, as they have been highlighted in prior research with first-generationcollege students (Phinney & Haas, 2003). Wespecifically focused on reflective coping resources given their reported prevalence and utility in studies with first-generation students (e.g.,Barry et al., 2009; Phinney & Haas, 2003).Reflective coping refers to “the tendency to examine causal relationships, plan, and be systematic in coping” (Heppner, Cook, Wright, &Johnson, 1995, p. 282). Reflective coping refersto one’s capacity to approach, rather than avoid,challenges and draw upon previous experienceto solve problems (Heppner et al., 1995). Therelation between stress and reflective copingmay be weaker for first-generation students dueto their lower capacity to rely on forms of socialcapital for navigating college compared to theircontinuing-generation peers (Davis, 2010). Forexample, continuing-generation students maybe more likely to draw from prior success experiences in high school advanced placementclasses when completing challenging academictasks (Warburton, Bugarin, & Nunez, 2001) orconsult a parent with questions related to navigating college-related problems.Literature also suggests that contextual supports and individual coping resources may beparticularly important for first-generation college students’ academic success (Davis, 2010;Phinney & Haas, 2003; Ward et al., 2012). Thiscan be attributed to the greater number andpotential variety of stressors first-generationstudents may face in college, suggesting thataccess to coping resources may play a strongerrole in their adjustment. Therefore, we examined whether the relation between coping resources and perceived academic goal progressmight also be dependent upon first-generationstatus. Specifically, we hypothesized that theassociation between coping resources and perceived academic goal progress would be stronger for first- compared to continuing-generationstudents.Cumulatively, this literature suggests the association between stress and perceived academic goal progress is explained by coping

FIRST-GENERATION INSTITUTIONAL SUPPORTSThis document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.resources (i.e., reflective coping, institutionalsupports, friend and family supports). However,these pathways may be dependent upon firstgeneration student status. Therefore, we tested aconditional process model in which the indirecteffect of stress on perceived academic goalprogress through coping resources was dependent upon first-generation status (see Figure 1).The following specific hypotheses were made:Hypothesis 1: The relation between stressand coping resources (i.e., institutionalsupport, family and friend support for attending college, reflective coping) wouldbe dependent upon first-generation studentstatus. Specifically, the relation betweenstress and institutional support as well asfriend and family support would be significantly negative and stronger for firstgeneration students while the relations between stress and reflective coping wouldbe significantly positive and weaker forfirst-generation students.Hypothesis 2: The relation between copingresources (i.e., institutional support, familyand friend support for attending college,reflective coping) and perceived academicgoal progress would be dependent uponfirst-generation student status. Specifically,the relation between all coping resourcesand perceived academic goal progresswould be significantly positive and stronger for first-generation students.Hypothesis 3: The indirect effect fromstress to perceived academic goal progressthrough institutional support and familyand friend support for attending collegewould be negative and stronger for firstgeneration students while the indirect effect from stress to perceived academic goalprogress through reflective coping wouldbe positive and stronger for continuinggeneration students.MethodParticipants and ProcedureParticipants were a convenience sample of688 students recruited from two 4-year highereducation institutions in the Western (n 166)and Midwestern regions (n 519) of the UnitedStates. Three students did not provide information about their host institution. At the time ofdata collection, both institutions served higherproportions of first-generation college studentscompared to the national average. The totalundergraduate enrollment at the institutionsranged from 2,156 to 4,395 students. In terms ofgender, 26.5% (n 182) were male and 72.5%(n 499) were female. Three students identified as transgender and four students did notprovide this information. By class rank, 22.8%(n 157) of participants identified as first year,22.1% (n 152) identified as second year,23.8% (n 164) identified as third year, rceivAcademicGoalAProgressFigure 1. Hypothesized conditional process model of stress, coping resources, and perceived academic goal progress.

This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.440GARRIOTT AND NISLE29.7% identified as fourth year students. Elevenstudents did not provide this information. Interms of race and ethnicity, 79.2% (n 545)identified as White/non-Hispanic, 6.4% (n 44) identified as Mexican American, 5.4% (n 37) identified as Native American/American Indian, 2.3% (n 16) identified as Multiracial,1.0% (n 7) identified as African American,0.6% (n 4) identified as Central American,0.3% (n 2) identified as South American, and3.8% (n 26) identified as Other.A total of 363 (52.8%) students reportedthey would be the first in their family toobtain a bachelor’s degree, whereas 325 students (47.2%) reported that at least one oftheir parents had received a bachelor’s degree. The sample was representative of a variety of academic concentrations and majorsincluding, but not limited to accounting, art,engineering, business, biology, communications, education, graphic design, history, human services, music, nursing, political science, psychology, sociology, theater, andtourism and hospitality.Following institutional review board approval, an online survey was distributed at theuniversities serving as sites for data collection.At one institution, university administratorsprovided the primary investigator with studentemail addresses and these were used to distribute the survey directly to students. At a secondinstitution, an announcement and link for thesurvey was distributed via a general studentlistserv. After clicking on a link for the survey,participants were provided with informed consent at which time they could continue or discontinue their participation in the study. Students who completed the survey were eligiblefor one of 10 US 25 gift cards to an onlinestore.InstrumentsTwo variables, comprising perceived environmental supports, were used in this study.These, as well as a measure of perceivedacademic goal progress were derived fromprevious research examining the academicand life satisfaction of college students (Lentet al., 2005).Family and friend support for attendingcollege. Perceived support from friends andfamily for attending college was assessed withfour items (Lent et al., 2005). Items are rated ona Likert scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree) with higher scoresindicative of high levels of perceived supportfrom friends and family for attending college.Sample items include, “I feel that my familymembers support my decision to attend college,” and “I have received encouragementfrom my friends for pursuing college.” Coefficient alpha for scale scores in the present studywas .81. Additional validity evidence for thefriend and family support scale is provided below.Institutional supports. Institutional supports were measured with five items assessingperceived availability of support from advisors,mentors, and teachers as well as fit within theuniversity environment (Lent et al., 2005).Items are rated on a Likert scale ranging from 1(stro

Coping is commonly investigated in studies of stress, with research indicating coping may explain the relation between stress and psycho-social outcomes among university students (Sa-watzky et al., 2012). In a qualitative study of stress and coping with fi

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