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.
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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.
We use the term “socioeconomic” to include studies that consider different dimensions of socioeconomic disadvantage, whether first generation, low income or working class.
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.
Approximately two-thirds of the sample indicated a STEM field as their major or intended major in the first year of college.
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.
The ACT restriction limited the sample to approximately the top half of the distribution of students who met the study’s financial aid criteria.
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.
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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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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
- Family support
- Emotional support
- Financial support
- Credit accumulation
- Student engagement