Higher Education

, Volume 55, Issue 4, pp 425–446 | Cite as

“Is that paper really due today?”: differences in first-generation and traditional college students’ understandings of faculty expectations

  • Peter J. Collier
  • David L. Morgan


Success in college is not simply a matter of students demonstrating academic ability. In addition, students must master the “college student” role in order to understand instructors’ expectations and apply their academic skills effectively to those expectations. This article uses data from focus groups to examine the fit between university faculty members’ expectations and students’ understanding of those expectations. Parallel discussions among groups of faculty and groups of students highlight important differences regarding issues of time management and specific aspects of coursework. We find definite incongruities between faculty and student perspectives and identify differences between traditional and first-generation college students. We argue that variations in cultural capital, based on parents’ educational experiences, correspond to important differences in each group’s mastery of the student role and, thus, their ability to respond to faculty expectations. The conclusion discusses the theoretical and practical implications of considering role mastery a form of cultural capital.


College student adjustment Cultural capital Faculty expectations First-generation students Focus group methodology Role mastery University retention 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyPortland State UniversityPortlandUSA

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