Research in Higher Education

, Volume 60, Issue 4, pp 415–436 | Cite as

The Role of Family Support in Facilitating Academic Success of Low-Income Students

  • Josipa RoksaEmail author
  • Peter Kinsley


While college education is a key to upward mobility, low-income students are substantially less likely to earn bachelor’s degrees than their more economically advantaged peers. Prior higher education literature illuminates various factors contributing to student success, but few studies consider the role of family support after students enter higher education. We examine how two different forms of family support—emotional and financial—are related to academic outcomes (grades, credit accumulation, and persistence) among low-income college students. Our analyses, based on a sample of 728 first-year low-income students attending eight four-year institutions, indicate that family emotional support plays an important role in fostering positive academic outcomes. Family emotional support is beneficial for academic outcomes as it promotes psychological well-being and facilitates greater student engagement. Financial support is not related to the outcomes examined in the sample as a whole. However, interaction models point to variation by first-generations status wherein continuing-generation students benefit more from family financial support than their first-generation peers. Presented findings offer valuable insights into the role of families in supporting low-income students in college and can inform institutional policies and practices aimed at facilitating their success.


Family support Low-income Emotional support Financial support Grades Credit accumulation Persistence Student engagement 



This project would not be possible without the many agencies and individuals who contributed their time, advice, and resources to this endeavor. The authors are grateful to the Grates Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation; Greg Kienzl and the staff at ACT, Inc.; Eileen Horng at Evaluation and Assessment Solutions for Education; Wisconsin Higher Educational Aids Board staff; Peter Steiner at the University of Wisconsin; Wisconsin HOPE Lab staff members including Alison Bowman, Emily Brunjes Colo, Jed Richardson, Sara Sanders, Wanyi Chen; and John Stevenson and Tara Piche at the University of Wisconsin Survey Center. We are also deeply grateful to the staff at the financial aid, registrar, and institutional research offices at the institutions participating in the study. In addition, data collection for the project on which this paper is based was funded in part by the National Science Foundation (DUE‐1317309). The views in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the funding agency.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology and Curry School of EducationUniversity of VirginiaCharlottesvilleUSA
  2. 2.University of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA

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