Skip to content

Exploring the Role of Adverse Childhood Experiences on College Graduation Among First-Generation Students

Principal Investigator (PI) / Project Lead:

LECY, NATALIE (Social Work PhD student)

Funding Organization:

University of Utah Research Foundation


Research Incentive Seed Grant Program – College of Social Work

Award Number:


Project Period:

3/1/2021 – 3/1/2022

Total Funding:


Project Status:



Project Description:

The proposed research study’s central hypothesis is that ACEs disproportionally impacts first-generation students’ graduation rates. The proposed research study is designed to build on observations the PI made while implementing intervention programs: high trauma rates were reported by first-generation students. This project will empirically investigate this clinical observation.



Obtaining a college degree remains one of the most predictable paths to economic stability; a four-year degree pays an average return on investment of 15.2% annually (Mettler, 2014). Yet, our educational institutions are inadequately supporting first-generation students. First-generation students tend to come from lower-income families and 89% of students who are low-income and first-generation drop-out within six years, a rate four-times higher than students from upper-class backgrounds (Fitzgerald & Delaney, 2002; US Department of Education, 2010). A myriad of factors contributes to first-generation students’ low retention rates; they are more likely face racism and prejudice, originate from lower-income families, and have less social support while navigating higher education (Horn & Nunez, 2000; Sandoz et al., 2017). But another less known factor may also be contributing to lower retention rates. Due to their backgrounds, it is likely first-generation students are at greater risk for experiencing Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) (Slopen et al., 2016) likely contributing to their college outcomes. However, whether ACEs impact first-generation students’ college graduation rates remains unknown.

The U.S. Department of Education (2019) has identified additional research is needed on the disadvantages experienced by first-generation students. Mindfulness-based interventions are continually emerging as effective tools to address a variety of social dilemmas and appear well-suited to tackle the negative effects of ACEs among all college students and first-generation students specifically. Utilizing mindfulness interventions among first-generation students could increase resilience and provide coping strategies for increasing self-regulation to foster increased task management and academic engagement, subsequently increasing student retention. But before we implement interventions, more information is needed on the relationship between childhood adversities and college graduation rates. The proposed project’s central hypothesis is that ACEs disproportionally impacts first-generation students’ graduation rates. To further our long-term goal of enhancing graduation rates for first-generation students, the proposed research study will pursue the following specific aims:

  • Aim 1. Assess ACEs among college students by generational status.
  • Aim 2. Evaluate the effect of ACEs on college graduation rates.
  • Aim 3. Explore the extent to which resilience and mindfulness moderate the relationship between ACEs and college graduation rates.

Upon successful completion of the proposed research, the contribution is expected to advance our understanding of the role of ACEs on college graduation rates among first-generation students. Further, it will better elucidate how resilience and dispositional mindfulness impact the relationship between ACEs and college graduation rates. This contribution is expected to be significant by providing the first direct exploration on the utility of implementing mindfulness-based interventions targeting increased graduation rates for first-generation students and students exposed to ACEs.

Share this article:


CSW Research Projects



Tag Cloud

Last Updated: 3/2/22