College of Science and Health Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

Spring 6-12-2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Joseph R. Ferrari, PhD

Second Advisor

Luciano Berardi, PhD

Third Advisor

Bernadette Sanchez, PhD


The current study explored the first year college transition between traditional and underrepresented student groups (ethnic minorities and first-generation college students; N = 500; M age = 18.34) at a diverse institution, comparing GPA and college adjustment over time. Using Tinto’s retention model (1975), the aim of the current study explored whether social and academic adjustment differences would explain any gap in academic achievement among underrepresented students groups. Results indicated that first-generation college students (FGC) of minority ethnic backgrounds reported significantly lower GPA scores, and had lower adjustment subscale scores compared to all other student groups by the end of the 1st year in college. However, SEM results indicated that social adjustment at Time 1 did not mediate the relationship between student background (ethnicity/first-generation college status) and GPA scores at Time 2. These results suggest that Tinto’s retention model may not be relevant for students from underrepresented backgrounds, as there may be additional obstacles that impact their academic achievement and retention beyond college adjustment. Brief qualitative analyses found that FGC students from ethnic minority backgrounds perceived multiple academic stressors, including academic barriers, lack of funding, off-campus responsibilities, and negative experiences with campus personnel. Areas for further research, limitations, and implications for higher education and community psychology are discussed.

SLP Collection