A Meta-Synthesis of Academic and Social Characteristic Studies: First-Generation College Students in StEM Disciplines at HBCUs

Document Type


Publication Date



Purpose: Given that a relatively large percentage of college students entering historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are first-generation students and considering the low completion rate among this group in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) discipline, the purpose of this preliminary meta-synthesis study is intended to facilitate a greater understanding of the academic and social adjustment among college students, particularly first-generation college students enrolled in STEM disciplines at HBCUs. Therefore, this meta-synthesis will shed light and offer important recommendations for university administrators and faculty members in supporting the academic and social adjustment of these students in STEM fields at HBCUs. Design/methodology/approach: This review of literature was conducted using a meta-synthesis approach (also referred to as integrative review). A meta-synthesis is based on a process by which findings across multiple studies are organized and presented (Turner et al., 2008; Wood, 2010). This approach is used to provide insight into academicians and practitioners alike on the status of research on a given phenomenon (Bland et al., 1995; Patterson et al., 2001; Wood, 2010). This technique is similar to a meta-analysis and meta-ethnography, where findings from quantitative and qualitative studies are synthesized. In contrast, a meta-synthesis presents thematic findings from studies that are both qualitative and quantitative in nature (Bair and Haworth, 2004). The authors were engaged in a cyclical process of collecting, annotating and synthesizing research over a 45-year time-frame (1970-2015). Findings: Factors present in the literature that affect students enrolled in a STEM program at an HBCU are grouped into three contexts: (a) first-generation academic and social characteristics, (b) first-generation college dropout and transition and (c) first-generation STEM retention. Within these general groupings, four interrelated themes emerged from the literature: prior academic adjustment and STEM discipline, college adjustment and STEM discipline, social integration and STEM discipline and academic integration and STEM discipline. Originality/value: This information may help professors and university professionals in the STEM fields to be more aware of the challenges faced by incoming college students. More empirical work is needed in this area in a way that is useful for understanding and enhancing professors’ and university professionals’ knowledge. To this end, research that carefully describes what HBCU professors and university professionals know or their ideas about teaching college students, especially first-generation students enrolled in the STEM discipline, is needed.