22 SES 07 C, Student Diversity and Inclusion
Universities today are becoming more sensitive to the challenges of non-traditional students as they seek to improve graduation rates. A large body of literature demonstrates that students with non-university graduate parents (‘first generation’ students) fare less well than others. For instance, these students have been shown to approach university with apprehension and higher levels of uncertainty (Lehmann 2007), and they often encounter higher education as a ‘‘foreign’’ environment in which they feel like cultural outsiders (Lehmann 2012). Researchers have investigated young people’s perspectives on the value of higher education (Archer, Hutchings, and Ross 2003; Brooks 2003), their choice of institution (Reay, David, and Ball 2005), and their experiences at university (Aries and Seider 2005; Baxter and Britton 2001; Quinn 2004; Reay, Crozier, and Clayton 2010).
The work of Bourdieu (1977, 1990) has informed much of this research on working-class students’ university experiences. Bourdieu’s ideas can be summarized, albeit simplistically, as follows: our dispositions are shaped in significant ways by our social milieu; in turn, leaving a social environment in which we are comfortable to enter a new field has the potential to cause confusion, conflict, and struggle. Consistent with these ideas, first-generation students have been found to have a weaker sense of belonging at university (Ostrove and Long 2007) and are at higher risk of dropping out (Butlin 2000). In recent years, scholars and practitioners have begun to look more closely at why these students fare poorly, and to propose ways of producing better outcomes for these students.
Recent Canadian research indicates that outcomes for first generation students are mixed; many working-class students do become well integrated and perform well academically, although others become alienated as they struggle to find themselves socially and academically (Lehmann 2012, 2013). In particular, students who face academic challenges tend not to be involved in out-of-class activities related to the university. Those who have difficulty developing clear and realistic career goals tend to be more alienated. In contrast, students who experience positive social relations in university-related activities (in class and out of class) are more likely remain committed.
The response of universities to first generation students usually involves providing pre-enrolment orientation programs to explain academic rules and procedures and other supports aimed at helping students to better integrate into the university context. The underlying assumption is that these students must adapt; they must work to transform themselves in order to achieve their goal of social mobility. Thus, while much attention has been paid to the institutional and pedagogical conditions and practices that contribute to poor outcomes for first gen students, much of the focus locates the source of the problem in the students themselves.
This research explores Lehmann’s (2013) recommendation that the successful integration of working-class students at university should be addressed by both social integration and by providing experiential learning activities including community service-learning, internships, and cooperative education. Such activities are likely to provide opportunities for working-class students to develop networks and career-relevant employment experiences while at university to increase the likelihood of fulfilling their mobility goals.
Our presentation will focus on students involved in community-service learning (CSL) at a large research-intensive university in western Canada.
Research questions addressed are:
- Do first generation students feel disadvantaged at university?
- Does experiential (or work-based) learning play an important role in addressing this disadvantage (lack of social and cultural capital)?
And importantly, given the problematic assumption that students rather than universities must change:
- Does curricular CSL, due to its focus on transformative education and social change (Butin 2010, Taylor 2014), provide opportunities that are more validating of working-class habitus than other policy responses?
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