Connected Scholars: A Mixed Methods Investigation of a Social Capital Intervention for First-Generation College Students

Does a mentoring intervention improve academic outcomes for racial/ethnic minority and low-income college students whose parents did not graduate from college?

The resources, information, and support available through one’s social ties—collectively known as social capital–play a key role in college and career success. A lack of such capital during the transition to college contributes to lower grades and lower rates of college completion for students, especially first-generation college students, who are disproportionately racial and ethnic minority and low-income. This study focuses on Connected Scholars, an intervention that allows first-generation college students to participate in a one-credit course focusing on identifying current and potential academic and professional connections, where students develop relationships with potential college faculty mentors and discuss how their backgrounds may present challenges and strengths in college experiences. This focus of this intervention differs from most mentoring programs, which match youth with a volunteer mentor and address that single mentoring relationship. The team’s pilot studies show that Connected Scholars may be able to increase first-generation college students’ willingness to seek support, improve their relationships with instructors, and raise their grade point averages. The study involves random assignment to the Connected Scholars intervention, with a mixed-methods design that allows for an evaluation of the efficacy of the program, the processes by which it works, and its implementation. The team will gather administrative data on course credit completion, college enrollment status, and grade point average, and will conduct student surveys before, during, and after participation, focusing on measures of social capital, relationships, use of university services, psychological functioning, and academic engagement. They will also interview a sub-sample of first-generation college students in the intervention and control groups about the facilitators and barriers to developing social capital, and analyze differences in how they respond.

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