Using difference-education to make a difference

Stephens, N.M., Hamedani, M.G., & Destin, M. (2014). Closing the Social-Class Achievement Gap: A Difference-Education Intervention Improves First-Generation Students’ Academic Performance and All Students’ College Transition. Psychological Science, 25(4), 943-953.

How can difference-education make a difference in the success outcomes of first-generation university freshmen?  A recently published study, authored by Nicole M. Stephens, MarYam G. Hamedani and Mesmin Destin (2014), sheds light on the matter.

Stephens, Hamedani, and Destin conducted a study to determine if an educational intervention that highlights difference and demonstrates why difference matters would reduce the achievement gap between first-generation students (those whose parents do not have a four-year college education) and continuing-generation students (whom have at least one parent who has obtained a four-year college degree).  Using a convenience sample to recruit first-year students and financial incentives to entice them to participate, the researchers organized two moderated panels of college seniors to share their personal stories of how they have succeeded at that university.  The same group of seniors spoke at each panel and shared the same stories; the only major difference between the panels was that one panel included difference-education in the form of the panelists identifying their social-class backgrounds and then linking their stories to those backgrounds, whereas the other panel did not include such mention of experience-based difference.  The group of freshmen participating in the study (which included first-generation and continuing-generation students) were randomly assigned to observe one panel or the other.

In addition to observing the panel, participating freshmen were asked immediately afterward to complete a brief survey about what they learned and how they would use that learning to advise future incoming students, and they also filmed a brief video testimonial that they were told would be used to educate the following year’s cohort of freshmen (the researchers added this wrinkle to produce the saying-is-believing effect articulated by Yeager and Walton (2011)).  At the end of the year, participants also completed a survey designed to gauge their understanding of difference, how much they utilized available student resources at the college, and the success of their college transition as determined by a range of psychosocial measures such as levels of stress and student engagement.

The results are encouraging.  After eliminating outliers and controlling for other factors such as SAT scores and high school GPA, the researchers found that the achievement gap (measured by year-end college GPA) between first-generation and continuing-generation students who observed the difference-education panel was virtually eliminated!  In contrast, a significant gap emerged between first-generation and continuing-generation students who observed the standard panel that did not contain difference-education.  The researchers also found that, although there was not a significant difference in year-end GPA between the groups of continuing-generation students who participated in the study, the group of first-generation students who observed the difference-education panel had a much higher mean GPA than the group of first-generation students who observed the standard panel.  Similar patterns emerged in relation to utilization of college resources.

This seems like a sound study.  The researchers’ survey design and statistical analysis controlled confounding variables, and results were statistically significant. Moreover, the researchers used multiple methods of obtaining data.

I am intrigued by this research because it relates directly to my area of inquiry.  It also confirms other research articles I’ve read, my own personal observations of students, and conversations I’ve had with colleagues that support the notion that, although interventions such as academic skill development programs and financial literacy education can clearly be beneficial for first-generation students, educators must also be attuned to psychological factors such as self-efficacy and feelings of belonging and hope that can impact student success outcomes.  Students can be exceptionally bright, but if they feel like they don’t belong in college, if they don’t recognize that their struggles and challenges might be related to difference in their backgrounds rather than who they are as individuals, or they don’t seek help, their chances for success are diminished.

This study also has major implications for issues of access and equity in education, which is a major national agenda.  As the authors of the study wrote, the achievement gap between first-generation and continuing-generation students is well documented, and first-generation students are a large percentage of the student population.  Therefore, administrators who are seeking to improve their institutional graduation rates and promote student success should be aware of this study and consider how they might use the findings in their own context.

The researchers identified several areas for future study.  For example, they suggested studies on how similar interventions might affect other areas in which there are educational disparities.  This study has definitely given me ideas for my own research.  I would like to try a similar intervention at ASU.  The key will be finding a way to do it at scale.

Additional Reference

Yeager, D.S., & Walton, G.M. (2011). Social-psychological interventions in education: They’re not magic. Review of Educational Research, 81, 267-301.


College Persistence…Mentoring Matters

Bordes-Edgar, V., Arredondo, P., Kurpius, S.R., & Rund, J. (2011). A Longitudinal Analysis of Latina/o Students’ Academic Persistence. Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, 10(4), 358-368.


It has previously been shown that there is positive correlation between student success and participation in mentoring programs in higher education (Salas, Aragon, Alandejani, & Timpson, 2014; Bordes and Arredondo, 2005). In the article “A Longitudinal Analysis of Latina/o Students’ Academic Persistence” authors Bordes-Edgar, Arredondo, Kurpius, & Rund (2011), use data from a longitudinal study to determine what factors might impact student persistence in higher education, and then re-examine the actual impact of those same factors 4.5 years later. The factors examined included decision making, self-efficacy, mentoring, value of education, family valuing of education, perceived social support (family and friends), and academic factors (including entrance exam scores, high school GPA, and college GPA).


Participants in the survey were Latina/o students from a southwestern university. In the original study, there were 112 1st-semester, freshman students. Of those 112 students, 76 students (20 men and 56 women) agreed to be part a follow-up study. Of the 76 students who were part of the follow-up, twenty-one (6 men and 15 women) were still enrolled, 25 (4 men and 21 women) had graduated, 25 (8 men and 17 women) had dropped out, and 5 were withdrawn for academic reasons. It should be noted that those who were withdrawn for academic reason, were not included in the final sample.


After receiving consent from each of the participants, researchers accessed student data on all participants involved in the study. Based on admission data gathered, participants were grouped into one of four separate categories. The categories were “graduated, enrolled, dropped-out, and academically withdrawn” (p.361).

The original survey included demographic information and self-report measures. In both the original survey, as well as the follow-up survey, there were several instruments (scales) used to measure correlation of various factors to student success, including, student decision making, self-efficacy, mentoring, value of education, family valuing of education, perceived social support (family and friends), and academic factors (including entrance exam scores, high school GPA, and college GPA). Correlation was determined using Cronbach’s alpha test.


Results of the study indicate that students who persisted from the initial survey to the second part of the survey (4.5 years later), received more mentoring, made more positive persistence decisions during the initial phase of the survey (i.e., valued education, had positive self-belief in their own ability, received positive social support), and had a higher high school GPA.

Social support from friends was initially a strong predictor of persistence with the freshman. As it turned out, the importance of social support from friends was shown to diminish over time, and students had to rely on other forms of social support (i.e., mentoring), to be successful.

It was noted in the article that students who are isolated from friends, are more likely to drop out of college. The strongest correlation for social support as it relates to student success and persistence, came from mentoring, in which students who graduated perceived that mentoring was a critical reason for their success.

It should be noted that the authors examined the racial/ethnic background of the mentors to see whether having a Latina/o mentor made a difference in persistence. Results of the study indicate that there were no differences found.

Limitations / Recommendations:

As it pertains to my own action research, the most notable limitation in this study, is that it focused on Latina/o students. For my own research, I wish to expand to include first-generation, low-income and students with disabilities. Other limitations include a small sample size, and that most participants were of Mexican origin, so generalizability to other Latina/o groups may be limited. In addition, there were significantly more women than men in the study. I am not sure whether this would have a direct effect of the outcome, but is worth noting and examining in future action research.

Application to my own Action Research / Discussion:

The most telling result of the study, is that the initial connection that we have with students is the most important in helping students to be successful. The initial self-beliefs of students is a strong indicator of future success. Therefore, mentors that are very intentional in how they establish that relationship with students during their freshman year will be critical to the students future success. For example, having the mentors develop and build student self-efficacy.

As it relates to social support, we might assume that social support from friends will increase the likelihood of student success. Results actually show that the importance of friend support diminishes over time. Establishing that social relationship with a mentor during the initial phase of a student’s college career will be important.

It was noted in the article that development of partnerships between high schools and colleges were critical, as student success in high school is a strong predictor of their success in college. As it pertains to mentoring, high school staff could work with college staff in making arrangements to mentoring assignments to happen prior to students start in college. As noted in the article “If students have a mentor at the beginning of their college career, they are more likely to succeed” (p.365). In looking at future action research, explore how ASU might partner with high schools to better prepare students to transition, help those working with high school students understand the importance of having a strong GPA in high school (as a predictor of college success), and establishing mentoring relationship early in their admission to the university.

It has been shown that mentoring has a positive impact on whether college students are successful. At Arizona State University, I have seen the impact that mentoring has had on student success. While the survey focused on Latina/o students, I believe the mentoring component could be applied to any at-risk student group. The student groups that I wish do my own action research include first-generation, low-income and students with disabilities.


Bordes-Edgar, V., Arredondo, P., Kurpius, S.R., & Rund, J. (2011). A Longitudinal Analysis of Latina/o Students’ Academic Persistence. Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, 10(4), 358-368.

Bordes, V., & Arredondo, P. (2005). Mentoring and 1st-year Latina/o college students. Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, 4, 114-133.

Learning Outcomes and Engagement

Strayhorn, T. (2008). How College Students’ Engagement Affects Personal and Social Learning Outcomes. Journal of College and Character, X(2), 1–16.


This article is presents possible interventions to influence student engagement, which then results in student learning. A widely accepted model for identifying change is presented. This model is called I-E-O and was developed by Astin in 1991. In the model, I represents “inputs”, E represents “Environment” and O represents “Outcome”. The model developed by Astin is considered a foundational model in evaluating the impact of planned interventions (or activities) with students. Through the use of data collected in the College Student Experiences Questionnaire (CSEQ, the researcher conducted quantitative analysis to identify potential activities (inputs) that would yield a measurable increase in student learning (outcome). The possible outcomes originated from the Council for the Advanced of Standards in Higher Education. Therefore, the research was attempting to determine appropriate input that would correlate to the desired CAS outcomes.

Literature Review

The literature review focused mainly on the frameworks for analysis, the I-E-O model and the standards identified for CAS. In accordance with the I-E-O model, student learning is the result of inputs and environment. The specific desired learning outcomes were identified from the CAS standards. See the table below in which the researcher categorized the standards based upon desired outcomes. Table 1

According to the researcher, the CAS standards are commonly agreed set of outcomes we hope for students that include categories related to developing effective communication practices, accepting diversity in thought and experience, forming meaningful relationships, and acquiring the ability to think critically.  The researcher also defined student engagement as “’the time and energy that students devote to educationally purposeful activities and the extend to which the institution gets students to participate in activities that lead to student success’ (Kezar & Kinzie, 2006, p. 150)” (Strayhorn, 2008, pg. 6)

Quantitative Research

 The research study is seeking to answer two research questions “(a) Is there a statistically significant relationship between students’ engagement in college experiences and personal/social learning gains and (b) What is the relationship between students’ engagement in college experiences and their self-reports personal/social learning gains, controlling for background differences” (Strayhorn, 2008, pg 2). The researcher is adding to the body of work based upon a possible gap in research in this field.

The CSEQ is administered by Indiana University Bloomington. It is typically used for assessment. It is comprised of 191 items “designed to measure the quality and quantity of students’ involvement in college activities and their use of college facilities” (Strayhorn, 2008, pg 4).   It was administered to 8000 undergraduates attending 4-year institutions.  The researcher used survey data used and identified certain questions thought to correlate to specific learning outcomes from CAS. Component factor analysis was used for the initial round of quantitative analysis. The next step was the incorporation of hierarchical linear regression. In hierarchical linear regression, variables are entered into the data set based up an order determined by the researcher.

Limitations of this research include a lack of detail about how participants in the survey were selected. Also, only 4-year institutions were selected. Community college students might have been included if they had transferred. However, that information was not provided. The initial review of the data can be replicated, since it is available. However, the researcher used assumptions to first, correlate what he perceived to be relevant data points along with the CAS standards and then second, to organize their analysis based upon a possible impact.

 Implications and Future Research

 Based upon the analysis, the researcher concluded that peers and active learning were found most impactful on student engagement. Therefore, programs should consider programs that bring students together and support learning such as peer study groups, peer mentors, social outreach. Since faculty provide the opportunities for active learning, this was further discussed in terms of possible research opportunities that faculty could provide to students. Strayhorn (2004) specifically suggests “programs should be (re-) designed for faculty and students to collaborate on research projects, co-teaching experiences, and service learning activities…” (pg. 11). Future research opportunities might be beneficial in showing how peer and faculty engagement opportunities do correlate to successful student outcomes. Strayhorn (2004) further clarifies this by stating “future research might attempt to measure the impact of engagement on other learning outcomes such as those identified by CAS including effective communication, appreciating diversity, and leadership development…” (pg. 12).

Another possible extension of this research is to incorporate the I-E-O model along with student development theories. Student development theories are theories advisors can use to understand how a student is maturing and growing (Williams, 2007). I mention this to suggest that a student’s phase of development could potentially be an influential factor in how the student responds to inputs and environments.   This is a possible extension of this research and relates to my research field since I am beginning to explore outcomes related to advising interventions. This could include qualitative research alongside the quantitative research analysis. An example would be to conduct interviews to get a sense of whether the inputs suggested by this research lead to different levels of outcomes based upon the phase of the students’ development.


Williams, S. (2007). From Theory to Practice: The Application of Theories of Development to Academic Advising Philosophy and Practice. Retrieved from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site:


The Future of Arizona is in Our Hands…and Theirs

“As nonindigenous scholars seeking a dialogue with indigenous scholars, we (Denzin and Lincoln) must construct stories that are embedded in the landscapes through which we travel” (Denzin, Lincoln, & Smith, p.6).

Highlighted in “Unveiling the Promise of Community Cultural Wealth to Sustaining Latina/o Students’ College-Going Information Networks” (Liou, Antrop-Gonazalez, & Cooper, 2009), is the importance of the critical relationships that exists between marginalized students (i.e., minority students) and those that support and guide them (i.e., teachers, guidance counselors, advisors, parents, religious leaders, peers, etc.). In the article, the authors correlate those relationships to the academic success of students. In order for that relationship to impact student success, “these relationships are predicated on teachers who are not only passionate about their content areas, but who are also passionate about their students and continuously strive to know their students, their families, and their communities well” (p. 542).

As noted, teachers are an important part of young people’s lives. However, not all critical relationships come from within the school system. Some of the most critical and enduring relationships are formed outside of school, through peer-to-peer groups, church groups, and family members. Through these relationships, students increase their likelihood of being successful. In one particular case, the authors noted that students often achieved success in their academics as a direct result of specific connections that they had developed to a religious organization and/or other extra-curricular activities. Students who participated in the study spoke to the benefit of participating in activities outside of the classroom “which steered them away from antischool, oppositional youth culture like gang membership and truancy” (p. 542).

According to the US Census Bureau (2012), Hispanic or Latinos comprise 30.2% of the Arizona state population, which is nearly double the percentage for the Hispanic or Latino population in the United States (US Census Bureau, 2012). As such, Arizona will continue to be challenged in meeting the needs of all students, but in particularly, in preparing students to meet the demands of the future. In order to most effectively do this, we must leverage our most valuable resource and commodity, which are the people who live in Arizona. Future preparation begins by preparing the younger generation of today. As minority populations quickly become the majority, it will be even more important in breaking down the barriers that prevent minorities from accessing higher education.

I have seen first-hand the impact that a caring teacher can have on a student’s ability to be successful. That success not only translates to the ability to progress in their educational pursuits, but also transcends education, and helps position them for success in life. Helping students build personal self-esteem, have confidence in their ability, and take pride in their culture, language and heritage, are all critical elements to success. The more we empower students by giving access to information and resources, the more we create a foundation upon which their success will be built.

As an action researcher, being aware of my own biases and limitations when conducting research, particularly as it relates to marginalized, indigenous, minority individuals and groups, will be critical to my ability to represent the story accurately.

While the quote at the beginning noted specifically the role of the authors, I would argue that we (as researchers, practitioners, and members of society) each insert ourselves in the construction of those stories embedded in our own journey.


Denzin, N.K., Lincoln, Y.S., & Smith, L.T. (2008). Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE.

Liou, D.D., Antrop-Gonzalez, R., & Cooper, R. (2009). Unveiling the Promise of Community Cultural Wealth to Sustaining Latina/o Students’ College-Going Information Networks. Educational Studies, 45, 534-555.

US Census Bureau (2012) Arizona Quick Facts. Retrieved June 6, 2014 from

The Promise of Success

In the article, “Unveiling the Promise of Community Cultural Wealth to Sustaining Latina/o Students’ College-Going Information Networks” (Liou, Antrop-González, & Cooper, 2009) the authors described the elements necessary to propel students of color to succeed in high school and beyond. Additionally, they described how the action or in-actions of the schools studied and their local communities can affect the student success outcomes.

In my opinion, both of the career/college prep counselors (from separate schools) made similar comments that were biased and insensitive. To quote one of the counselors in the article, “I don’t believe that every kid should go to college. These kids are from families where they have little to live on and the best thing for many of them is to get a job” (Liou, Antrop-González, & Cooper, p. 541). This type of mentality is poisonous to a young adult. If a student has a true desire to go to school then this type of “guidance” will quash their dreams and a chance for a better future. What truly infuriated me was the worry that Miguel, one of the students referred to by one of the counselors, might not be able to fix their car. I am astounded that a professional who is counseling young adults is so self-absorbed that they would steer someone away from college. It is well documented that a college education will reap far more benefits than a high school diploma. “In 2002, the Census Bureau projected lifetime earnings of employees with a bachelor’s degree and those without. Non-degree holders could expect to earn 75% less than a bachelor’s degree holder, who could expect to earn $2.7 million over their lifetime” (Education Portal, n.d.). While I understand that some people are drawn to a career, one should never be categorized into a certain profession due to their color, race, etc. After recently reading the article, “Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Ingredients for critical teacher reflection” (Howard, 2003) one might venture to guess that the counselors could stand for some self-reflection and work hard to rid themselves of any cultural or color biases in order to provide the best advice to students.

In the article, “Unveiling the Promise of Community Cultural Wealth to Sustaining Latina/o Students’ College-Going Information Networks” (Liou, Antrop-González, & Cooper, 2009) the authors discussed how community cultural wealth, which is a method used to gain a deeper understanding about how low income students of color enact their information seeking behaviors by developing alternative social networks that enable their academic success. In people of color, there are six forms of capital that comprise the community cultural wealth; they are: aspirational, linguistic, social, navigational, familial and resistance. In my opinion, these are the pillars of strength and guidance for any person trying to achieve a goal. The statements from the students demonstrated there is hope beyond their lack of support from some teachers and guidance counselors. The statement, “It takes a village” came to mind when reading about how the students found alternative ways to achieve their dreams.

I am sure there are studies that examine why a student drops out of school and the multitude of reasons why they would not pursue a college education upon high school graduation. It would be interesting to discover if these students would agree that if they had been exposed to various forms of community cultural wealth then their future would have had a different outcome. Additionally, it would be interesting to see if introducing a support system after dropping out of school would enable them to complete a GED or pursue a college education.


How Much More Do College Graduates Earn Than Non-College Graduates? (n.d.). Retrieved from

Howard, T. C. (2003). Culturally Relevant Pedagogy : Ingredients for Critical Teacher Reflection. Theory into Practice, 42(3), 195–202.

Liou, D. D., Antrop-González, R., & Cooper, R. (2009). Unveiling the Promise of Community Cultural Wealth to Sustaining Latina/o Students’ College-Going Information Networks. Educational Studies, 45(6), 534–555. doi:10.1080/00131940903311347

Students with Disabilities — Factors Impacting First-to-Second-Year Persistence

Mamiseishvili, K., & Koch, L.C. (2010). First-to-Second-Year Persistence of Students With Disabilities in Postsecondary Institutions in the United States. Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin, 54(2), 93-105.


In the article “First-to-Second-Year Persistence of Students With Disabilities in Postsecondary Institutions in the United States”, authors Mamiseishvili and Koch (2010), explore factors that influence persistency for students from first-to-second-year in college, as well as risk factors that lead to attrition, in students with disabilities. While enrollment of students with disabilities has remained steady, by enacting greater protection to students with disabilities, through the passing of disability legislation, including the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008, it is anticipated that postsecondary institutions will see an increase in the number of students with disabilities that enroll in the years ahead.

For their study, the authors used data from the “Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study” survey (p. 95). The data set was varied and included transfer students, persisters, stopouts and dropouts, as well as vocational completers. Participants were interviewed to determine who fit the criteria for the survey.

The sample size of the study for students with disabilities was 1910 students. Appropriate weighting measures were used to account for oversampling from the original BPS sample data set. The average age of the sample participants was 24 years.

The researchers did a good job considering different variables and characteristics, including – students who transferred to other institutions of higher education, background characteristics such as gender, age, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, type of disability, first-generation student status, as well as high school GPA. Additionally, characteristics of being a college student were also take into consideration, which included first-year GPA, intensity of the academic program, remediation, housing status, degree aspirations, academic integration, social integration, price of attendance, and first institution level.


There were several tests that were used to measure whether significant associations existed. The authors used Pearson’s chi-square tests to determine if there was a significant association with those that received disability-related services and those that persisted. Testing showed that there was a significant association, in that students with disabilities who received academic support services were more likely to persist from first-year-to-second-year. The highest association was for students who received a course substitution or waiver, note taking services, testing readers and / or scribes. Chi-square testing also showed a significant association with those who participated in academic and social activities. Specific activities included, meeting informally with the instructor, attending study groups, and discussing academic matters with the instructor and advisor outside of the classroom. Testing showed that students with disabilities who actively participated in academic and social activities were more likely to persist from first-year-to-second-year.

In addition to the chi-square testing, a logistic regression analysis was also conducted, looking at factors which influenced first-to-second-year persistence. Significant predictors for persisting from first-to-second-year were discovered. The variables that stood out the most in being associated with the likelihood of persisting were – being female and black, female (compared to males), African American (compared to white) – all increased likelihood of persisting from first to second year.

The authors considered a number of risk factors directly related, in addition to several theories pertaining to retention, and tested for variables to ensure that they were looking at relevant factors. The sample for their research consisted of students with various disabilities, including “(a) any sensory impairment, such as blindness, deafness, or a severe vision or hearing impairment, (b) any mobility impairment substantially restricting students’ basic physical activities, or (c) any other mental, emotional, or learning condition limiting students’ ability to learn, remember, and concentrate.” (p. 95).


The findings indicate that students with disabilities persist from first-to-second-year at a rate of 76.4%. There were discrepancies that existed between various disability groups, with students who have learning disabilities / dyslexia persisting at a rate of 85.7% (as the highest), and students with other conditions not specified persisting at a rate of 64.3% (as the lowest). Additionally, they found that specific accommodations and services were also correlated to a higher rate of persistence. Namely, students who received course substitutions, course waivers, readers, note takers, scribes, and students who participated in academic and social activities, as accommodations, saw a higher rate of persistency.

Limitations / Recommendations:

  • No consideration for physical accessibility of the campus
  • No consideration as to whether students utilized counseling services
  • Study examined persistence across ALL higher education, rather than a specific institution.
  • Limited variables (3) for examining social integration.
  • Explore similarities or differences between students with disabilities compared to students without disabilities.
  • Explore similarities or differences between 4-year, and 2-year institutions.
  • Explore factors that might impede or facilitate persistence to graduation.

Application to my own Action Research:

There were several acknowledged limitations in this study, and as such, an opportunity, to explore these limitations / factors, that may exist, moving forward in my own action research. At Arizona State University, we have a great relationship and partnership with our counseling services office. We partner extensively in support of student success. I wish to explore that relationship and the impact that it may have on persistence.

There is a great opportunity to explore the relationship that the Disability Resource Center has with each of the academic colleges. How might that relationship translate into creating factors which increase persistence, and to what extent already existing support services (i.e., Student Success Center, tutoring services, the Writing Center, utilization of assistive technology located in the Information Commons, etc.) impact the rate of persistence in students with disabilities.

Finally, I wish to explore the similarities and differences that may exist between students with disabilities, and those that do not have a disability.

I see great application in not only looking at other factors that may exist in my own research, exploring ways of increasing the likelihood that students with disabilities will persist at ASU, but also in improving the services that either already exist, or should be established in support of student success. Overall, I felt the article was well written, and has great relevance in higher education today.


Mamiseishvili, K., & Koch, L.C. (2010). First-to-Second-Year Persistence of Students With Disabilities in Postsecondary Institutions in the United States. Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin, 54(2), 93-105.