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

Abstract

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3

Change history

  • 02 August 2018

    The original version of this article unfortunately contained a mistake in the acknowledgement section. Some of the vital information is missing in the published article. The complete information is presented with this erratum.

Notes

  1. 1.

    There is also a distinct body of research that considers the link between parenting styles and student success in higher education (e.g., Love and Thomas 2014; Hickman et al. 2000; Silva et al. 2007). We are focusing on the literature on parental engagement and support as those concepts more closely resemble our measures and are more directly related to our theoretical framework than parenting styles.

  2. 2.

    We use the term “socioeconomic” to include studies that consider different dimensions of socioeconomic disadvantage, whether first generation, low income or working class.

  3. 3.

    There is also likely a relationship between students’ engagement and psycho-social adjustment, although the direction of the relationship is less clear. Our goal in this article is not to explicate all of the direct and indirect relationships between the different measures but to understand whether the two proposed sets of students’ experiences account for the relationship between family support and academic outcomes.

  4. 4.

    Approximately two-thirds of the sample indicated a STEM field as their major or intended major in the first year of college.

  5. 5.

    Our estimates employ survey non-response weights to reduce potential bias due to differences between our analytic sample (n = 728) and the full study sample from which the analytic sample was drawn (n = 1029) (see Table 1). These weights, which are equal to the inverse of the predicted probability of survey response, were constructed using logistic probability models incorporating a range of observable student characteristics including demographics, SES, academic preparation, financial aid, and college choice. Using weights renders our analytic sample more representative of the original study sample. A detailed description of the methodology used to create the weights is available from the authors upon request.

  6. 6.

    The ACT restriction limited the sample to approximately the top half of the distribution of students who met the study’s financial aid criteria.

  7. 7.

    Previous literature also implies that students from different racial/ethnic groups benefit differentially from family support. We found no statistically significant interactions between the URM category and family support for any of the outcomes. However, given the context of this study, our sample was overwhelmingly White, which necessitated combining all traditionally underrepresented racial/ethnic minority groups into one category. This prevented us from examining how specific racial/ethnic groups may benefit from family support.

References

  1. ACT. (2014). ACT profile report: Wisconsin graduating class 2014. Iowa City, IA: ACT.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Allison, P. (2002). Missing data. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Attewell, P., Heil, S., & Reisel, L. (2012). What is academic momentum? And does it matter? Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 34(1), 27–44.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Auerbach, S. (2004). Engaging Latino parents in supporting college pathways: Lessons from a college access program. Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, 3(2), 125–145.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Auerbach, S. (2006). “If the student is good, let him fly”: Moral support for college among Latino immigrant parents. Journal of Latinos and Education, 5(4), 275–292.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Bailey, M., & Dynarski, S. (2011). Gains and gaps: Changing inequality in U.S. college entry and completion. National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) Working Paper Series. Cambridge, MA: NBER.

  7. Bean, J. P., & Eaton, S. (2000). A psychological model of college student retention. In J. M. Braxton (Ed.), Reworking the departure puzzle: New theory and research on college student retention. Nashville: University of Vanderbilt Press.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Bean, J., & Eaton, S. B. (2001). The psychology underlying successful retention practices. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice, 3(1), 73–89.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Bowen, W. G., Chingos, M. M., & McPherson, M. S. (2009). Crossing the finish line: Completing college at America’s public universities. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Brand, J. E., & Xie, Y. (2010). Who benefits most from college? Evidence for negative selection in heterogeneous economic returns to higher education. American Sociological Review, 75(2), 273–302.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Cabrera, A. F., & La Nasa, S. M. (2001). On the path to college: Three critical tasks facing America’s disadvantaged. Research in Higher Education, 107, 119–149.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Cabrera, A. F., Nora, A., & Castaneda, M. B. (1993). College persistence: Structural equations modeling test of an integrated model of student retention. Journal of Higher Education, 64, 123–139.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Cabrera, A. F., Nora, A., Terenzini, P. T., Pascarella, E. T., & Hagedorn, L. S. (1999). Campus racial climate and the adjustment of students to college: A comparison between White students and African-American students. The Journal of Higher Education, 70(2), 134–160.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Cameron, A. C., & Miller, D. L. (2015). A practitioner’s guide to cluster-robust inference. Journal of Human Resources, 50(2), 317–372.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Ceja, M. (2006). Understanding the role of parents and siblings as information sources in the college choice process of Chicana students. Journal of College Student Development, 47(1), 87–104.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Cutright, M. (2008). From helicopter parent to valued partner: Shaping the parental relationship for student success. New Directions for Higher Education, 144, 39–48.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Cutrona, C. E., Cole, V., Colangelo, N., Assouline, S. G., & Russell, D. W. (1994). Perceived parental social support and academic achievement: An attachment theory perspective. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66, 369–378.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. DeBerard, M. S., Spielmans, G. I., & Julka, D. L. (2004). Predictors of academic achievement and retention among college first-year students: A longitudinal study. College Student Journal, 38(1), 66.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Deutschlander, D. (2017). Academic undermatch: How general and specific cultural capital structure inequality. Sociological Forum, 32, 162–185.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Diener, E., Wirtz, D., Tov, W., Kim-Prieto, C., Choi, D., Oishi, S., et al. (2009). New measures of well-being: Flourishing and positive and negative feelings. Social Indicators Research, 39, 247–266.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Engle, J., & Tinto, J. (2008). Moving beyond access: College success for low- income, first-generation students. Washington, DC: The Pell Institute.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Furstenberg, F. F. (2010). On a new schedule: Transitions to adulthood and family change. Future of Children, 20(1), 67–87.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Gloria, A. M., & Castellanos, J. (2003). Latina/o/a and African American students at predominately White institutions: A psycho-sociocultural perspective of cultural congruity, campus climate, and academic persistence. In J. Castellanos & L. Jones (Eds.), The majority in the minority: Expanding the representation of Latino faculty, administrators, and students in higher education (pp. 71–92). Sterling, VA: Stylus.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Gofen, A. (2009). Family capital: How first-generation higher education students break the intergenerational cycle. Family Relations, 58(1), 104–120.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Goldrick-Rab, S. (2016). Paying the price: College costs, financial aid, and the betrayal of the American dream. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Goldrick-Rab, S., Harris, D. N., & Trostel, P. A. (2009). Why financial aid matters (or does not) for college success: Toward a new interdisciplinary perspective. In J. Smart (Ed.), Higher education: Handbook of theory and research (Vol. 24, pp. 1–45). New York, NY: Springer Science & Business.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Griffith, A. N., Hurd, N. M., & Hussain, S. B. (2017). “I didn’t come to school for this”: A qualitative examination of experiences with race-related stressors and coping responses among Black students attending a predominantly White institution. Journal of Adolescent Research. https://doi.org/10.1177/0743558417742983.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Guiffrida, D. A. (2006). Toward a cultural advancement of Tinto’s theory. The Review of Higher Education, 29(4), 451–472.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Hamilton, L. T. (2013). More is more or more is less? Parental financial investments during college. American Sociological Review, 78, 70–95.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Hamilton, L. T. (2016). Parenting to a degree: How family matters for college women’s success. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Hamilton, L., Roksa, J., & Nielsen, K. (2018). Providing a “leg up”: Parental involvement and opportunity hoarding in college. Sociology of Education, 91, 111–131.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Harper, S. R., & Hurtado, S. (2007). Nine themes in campus racial climates and implications for institutional transformation. New Directions for Student Services, 120, 7–24.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Harper, C., Sax, L., & Wolf, D. (2012). Parents’ influence on college students’ personal, academic, and social development. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 49(2), 137–156.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Hickman, G. P., Bartholomae, S., & McKenry, P. C. (2000). Influence of parenting style on the adjustment and academic achievement of traditional college first-year students. Journal of College Student Development, 40(1), 41–54.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Hurtado, S., & Carter, D. F. (1997). Effects of college transition and perceptions of the campus racial climate on Latino college students’ sense of belonging. Sociology of Education, 70, 324–345.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Hurtado, S., Milem, J., Clayton-Pedersen, A., & Allen, W. (1998). Enhancing campus climates for racial/ethnic diversity: Educational policy and practice. The Review of Higher Education, 21, 279–302.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Kinsley, P. M. (2014). The pull of home: Family dynamics and the initial college experiences of low-income undergraduates (doctoral dissertation). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Kiyama, J. M., & Harper, C. E. (2018). Beyond hovering: A conceptual argument for an inclusive model of family engagement in higher education. The Review of Higher Education, 41, 365–385.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Kiyama, J. M., Harper, C. E., Ramos, D., Aguayo, D., Page, L. A., & Riester, K. A. (2015). Parent and family engagement in higher education. ASHE Higher Education Report, 41(6), 1–94.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Lareau, A., & Cox, A. (2011). Social class and the transition to adulthood: Differences in parents’ interactions with institutions. In M. Carlson & P. England (Eds.), Social class and changing families in an unequal America (pp. 134–164). Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Lehmann, W. (2014). Habitus transformation and hidden injuries of successful working-class university students. Sociology of Education, 87(1), 1–15.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Love, K. M., & Thomas, D. M. (2014). Parenting styles and adjustment outcomes among college students. Journal of College Student Development, 55(2), 139–150.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Martin, A. J., Wilson, R., Liem, G. A. D., & Ginns, P. (2013). Academic momentum at university/college: Exploring the roles of prior learning, life experience, and ongoing performance in academic achievement across time. The Journal of Higher Education, 84(5), 640–674.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Mood, C. (2010). Logistic regression: Why we cannot do what we think we can do, and what we can do about it. European Sociological Review, 26, 67–83.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Museus, S. D. (2014). The culturally engaging campus environments (CECE) model: A new theory of success among racially diverse college student populations. Higher education: Handbook of theory and research (pp. 189–227). Amsterdam: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  46. Nora, A., & Cabrera, A. F. (1996). The role of perceptions of prejudice and discrimination on the adjustment of minority students to college. The Journal of Higher Education, 67(2), 119–148.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Ostrove, J. M., & Long, S. M. (2007). Social class and belonging: Implications for college adjustment. The Review of Higher Education, 30(4), 363–389.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Perna, L. W., & Titus, M. A. (2005). The relationship between parental involvement as social capital and college enrollment: An examination of racial/ethnic group differences. The Journal of Higher Education, 76, 485–518.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Pike, G. R., Kuh, G. D., & Massa-McKinley, R. C. (2008). First-year students’ employment, engagement, and academic achievement: Untangling the relationship between work and grades. NASPA Journal, 45(4), 560–582.

    Google Scholar 

  50. Plank, S. B., & Jordan, W. J. (2001). Effects of information, guidance, and actions on postsecondary destinations: A study of talent loss. American Educational Research Journal, 38, 947–979.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Reason, R. D. (2009). An examination of persistence research through the lens of a comprehensive conceptual framework. Journal of College Student Development, 50, 659–682.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Rendon, L. I., Jalomo, R., & Nora, A. (2000). Theoretical considerations in the study of minority student retention in higher education. In J. M. Braxton (Ed.), Reworking the student departure puzzle (pp. 127–156). Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  53. Richburg-Hayes, L., Patel, R., Brock, T., De la Campa, E., Rudd, T., & Valenzuela, I. (2015). Providing more cash for college: Interim findings from the performance-based scholarship demonstration in California. New York, NY: MDRC.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Roksa, J., & Deutschlander, D. (2018). Applying to college: The role of family resources in academic undermatch. Paper presented at the Center for Education Policy Analysis, Stanford University, Teachers College Record, 120:TBD.

  55. Roksa, J., Deutschlander, D., & Whitley, S.E. (2016). The role of parents in facilitating belonging and institutional commitment for first-generation and low-income students. Paper presented at the Association for the Study of Higher Education meeting, Columbus, OH.

  56. Roksa, J., Kilgo, C. A., Trolian, T. L., Pascarella, E. T., Blaich, C., & Wise, K. S. (2017). Engaging with diversity: How positive and negative diversity interactions shape students’ cognitive outcomes. The Journal of Higher Education, 88, 297–322.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Rubin, D. (1987). Multiple imputation for nonresponse in surveys. New York: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  58. Sax, L. J., & Wartman, K. L. (2010). Studying the impact of parental involvement on college student development: A review and agenda for research. Higher education: Handbook of theory and research (pp. 219–255). Amsterdam: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  59. Sax, L. J., & Weintraub, D. S. (2014). Exploring the parental role in first-year students’ emotional well-being: Considerations by gender. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 51(2), 113–127.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  60. Settersten, R. A., & Ray, B. E. (2010). Not quite adults: Why 20-somethings are choosing a slower path to adulthood, and why it’s good for everyone. New York: Bantam Books.

    Google Scholar 

  61. Silva, M., Dorso, E., Azhar, A., & Renk, K. (2007). The relationship among parenting styles experienced during childhood, anxiety, motivation, and academic success in college students. Journal of College Student Retention, 9, 149–167.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  62. Solórzano, D. G., & Yosso, T. J. (2001). From racial stereotyping and deficit discourse toward a critical race theory in teacher education. Multicultural education, 9(1), 2.

    Google Scholar 

  63. Solórzano, D. G., & Yosso, T. J. (2002). Critical race methodology: Counter-storytelling as an analytical framework for education research. Qualitative inquiry, 8(1), 23–44.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  64. Strayhorn, T. L. (2012). College students’ sense of belonging: A key to educational success for all students. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  65. STATA (2017). User’s manual. College station. TX: STATA Press.

    Google Scholar 

  66. Strom, R. E., & Savage, M. W. (2014). Assessing the relationships between perceived support from close others, goal commitment, and persistence decisions at the college level. Journal of College Student Development, 55(6), 531–547.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  67. Tierney, W. G. (1992). An anthropological analysis of student participation in college. Journal of Higher Education, 63(6), 603–618.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  68. Tierney, W. G. (1999). Models of minority college-going and retention: Cultural integrity versus cultural suicide. The Journal of Negro Education, 68(1), 80–91.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  69. Tinto, V. (1993). Leaving college: Rethinking the causes and cures of student attrition (3rd ed.). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  70. Tinto, V. (2007). Research and practice of student retention: What next? Journal of College Student Retention, 8(1), 1–19.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  71. Torche, F. (2011). Is a college degree still the great equalizer? Intergenerational mobility across levels of schooling in the United States. American Journal of Sociology, 117(3), 763–807.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  72. Trusty, J. (2002). African American’s educational expectations: Longitudinal causal models for women and men. Journal of Counseling and Development, 80, 332–345.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  73. Von Hippel, P. T. (2007). Regression with missing Ys: An improved strategy for analyzing multiply imputed data. Sociological Methodology, 37, 83–117.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  74. Walpole, M. (2003). Socioeconomic status and college: How SES affects college experiences and outcomes. The Review of Higher Education., 27(1), 45–73.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  75. Wartman, K. L., & Savage, M. (2008). Parental involvement in higher education: Understanding the relationship among students, parents, and the institution. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

    Google Scholar 

  76. Wintre, M. G., & Yaffe, M. (2000). First-year students’ adjustment to university life as a function of relationships with parents. Journal of Adolescent Research, 15, 9–37.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  77. Wolf, D. S. S., Sax, L., & Harper, C. E. (2009). Parental engagement and contact in the academic lives of college students. NASPA Journal, 46(2), 325–358.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

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.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Josipa Roksa.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Roksa, J., Kinsley, P. The Role of Family Support in Facilitating Academic Success of Low-Income Students. Res High Educ 60, 415–436 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11162-018-9517-z

Download citation

Keywords

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