Closing the Social-Class Achievement Gap: A Difference-Education Intervention Improves…
Author(s): Stephens, Nicole M.; Hamedani, MarYam G.; and Destin, Mesmin.
Organizational Author(s): Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University
Funding source not identified
Resource Availability: Publicly available
Uses a randomized control trial to evaluate the results of a “difference-education” intervention designed to reduce the social-class achievement gap for first generation students and improve transition for all college students.
“Using senior college students’ real-life stories, [the authors] conducted a difference-education intervention with incoming students about how their diverse backgrounds can shape what they experience in college. Compared with a standard intervention that provided similar stories of college adjustment without highlighting students’ different backgrounds, the difference-education intervention eliminated the social-class achievement gap by increasing first-generation students’ tendency to seek out college resources (e.g., meeting with professors) and, in turn, improving their end-of-year grade point averages. The difference-education intervention also improved the college transition for all students on numerous psychosocial outcomes (e.g., mental health and engagement)” (p.1).
“To ensure that the intervention was empowering and identity safe, rather than stigmatizing or threatening, we emphasized how students’ different backgrounds can be a source of both challenge and strength, and provided students with strategies that they need to be successful... To evaluate the intervention’s effectiveness, [the authors] compared it with a control condition modeled after the bridge programs used by many colleges and universities—the standard approach. In both intervention conditions, a demographically diverse group of junior and senior college students (panelists) shared stories with incoming students (participants) about how they adjusted to and found success in college… This framework included the understanding that students’ different backgrounds can shape the college experience in both positive and negative ways and that students need to utilize strategies for success that take their different backgrounds into account. Students in the standard control condition, in contrast, were exposed to similar stories, yet these stories did not convey background- specific information about how students’ college experiences and strategies for success can differ according to their social class.” (p.2)
“Using a convenience-sampling method, [the authors] sent all first generation students and a targeted group of continuing generation students at a private university an e-mail invitation to participate in the “[university name] Student Project.”(p.3).
(Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)
Full publication title: Closing the Social-Class Achievement Gap: A Difference-Education Intervention
Improves First-Generation Students’ Academic Performance and All Students’ College Transition
Major Findings & Recommendations
“[The authors] asked whether an educational experience designed to help students understand how difference matters could be utilized to enable first-generation students to more effectively transition to college and overcome background- specific obstacles to success. The answer is yes” (p.7).
“Using the personal stories of senior college students, a 1-hr difference-education intervention at the beginning
of college reduced the social-class achievement gap among first-generation and continuing-generation college students by 63% at the end of their first year and also improved first-generation students’ college transition on numerous psychosocial outcomes (e.g., psychological adjustment and academic and social engagement).
The intervention provided students with the critical insight that people’s different backgrounds matter and that people with backgrounds like theirs can succeed when they use the right kinds of tools and strategies.
Because first-generation students tend to experience a particularly difficult transition to college and confront background-specific obstacles that can undermine their opportunity to succeed, this framework for understanding how students’ backgrounds matter is especially beneficial to them. Yet, at the same time, given the intervention’s clear benefits for continuing-generation students’ psychological health and levels of engagement, our results suggest that this difference-education experience holds the potential to ease all students’ transition to college” (p.7).
“Educators at leading colleges and universities increasingly identify understanding and navigating sociocultural diversity as a critical 21st-century competency. This study presents an initial blueprint for educating students about difference and equipping them to more effectively participate in higher education. This approach has the potential to not only facilitate students’ transition to college but also provide them with the skills to be informed, engaged, and productive citizens in our multicultural world. Although the intervention targeted first-generation college students, its main message—people’s different backgrounds matter, and people with different backgrounds can be successful—can and should be leveraged to foster more inclusive and equitable schools, workplaces, and communities.” (p.10)