Different institutions and different values: Exploring first-generation student fit at 2-year colleges

Yoi Tibbetts, Stacy J. Priniski, Cameron A. Hecht, Geoffrey D. Borman, Judith M. Harackiewicz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


First-generation (FG) college students (students for whom neither parent has a 4-year degree) face a number of challenges as they attempt to obtain a post-secondary degree. They are more likely to come from working-class backgrounds or poverty (Reardon, 2011) and attend lower quality high schools (Warburton et al., 2001) while not benefiting from the guidance of a parent who successfully navigated the path to higher education. FG college students also contend with belonging or "fitting in" concerns due a perceived mismatch between their own values and the values implicit in institutions of higher education (Stephens et al., 2012a). Specifically, prior research has demonstrated that FG college students face an unseen disadvantage that can be attributed to the fact that middle-class norms of independence reflected in American institutions of higher education can be experienced as threatening by many FG students who have been socialized with more interdependent values commonly espoused in working-class populations. The present research examines this theory (cultural mismatch theory) in the understudied context of 2-year colleges and tests if a values-affirmation intervention (i.e., an intervention that has shown promise in addressing identity threats and belonging concerns) can be effective for FG college students at these 2-year campuses. By considering the tenets of cultural mismatch theory in the creation of the values-affirmation interventions we were able to vary different aspects of the intervention in order to examine how its effectiveness may depend on the nature and magnitude of a perceived cultural mismatch. Results from surveying faculty and students at 2-year colleges indicated that compared to traditional 4-year institutions, the norms of 2-year colleges and the motivations of FG students may be different. That is, FG student motives may be more consistent (and thus less mismatched) with the cultural context of 2-year colleges which could result in fewer belonging concerns when compared to FG students at 4-year institutions. This may carry implications for the efficacy of values-affirmation interventions and could help explicate why FG students in the current sample perceived a greater match with their college when they reflected on their interdependent values.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number502
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberAPR
StatePublished - Apr 11 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Cultural mismatch theory
  • First-generation students
  • Social class
  • Social psychological intervention
  • Values affirmation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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