Generation 1.5 Students: Recognizing an Overlooked Population

Laura C. Masterson, Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis

Editor's note: This is the fifth in a series of articles written by students who were enrolled in Catherine Buyarski's graduate seminar in academic advising at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis for the fall 2006 term. As part of her course syllabus, Dr. Buyarski required each of the students in her class to submit an article to The Mentor for possible publication in the journal.

In institutions of higher education, many different student populations constitute the diverse make-up of the student body. Each population possesses unique backgrounds and needs that keep student and academic services continually working to ensure that an array of needs is addressed. Helping to provide suitable services for the assortment of student subpopulations is one of the chief challenges facing current academic advising on college campuses (Reinarz, 2000). Ultimately, the outcome of this challenge will drastically renovate the features and delivery systems of academic advising. Academic advising must continually reevaluate current trends in student enrollment and be proactive in its efforts to recognize the current student population and respond accordingly. Historically, ethnic groups and special populations such as African American students, first-generation students, Asian American students, and international students have shaped higher education through institutional response to changing enrollment. More recently, the term Generation 1.5 describes another growing group of incoming students that does not fit into any previous classification, yet is contributing to a higher level of diversity in colleges and universities as well as presenting challenges to academic advisers.

As defined by Oudenhoven (2006), “Generation 1.5 students are immigrant students who move to the United States at the age of 12 or older and enroll in middle school or high school in this country.” The label comes from the group's special place as first-generation Americans who migrate to this country during childhood and feel strong identification with the United States, yet are native to another country. This group has been identified by the National Academic Advising Association's ESL/International Student Commission as a group that is rapidly growing and in need of special advising consideration (National Academic Advising Association, n.d.).

Traditionally, certain student groups are seen much more frequently in community colleges than in four-year institutions. Generation 1.5 immigrant students make up a group in which the current trend is toward higher prevalence in community colleges. However, it is imperative that traditional four-year institutions brace themselves for the imminent rapid increase in Generation 1.5 enrollment. National estimates predict that ethnic minority groups, particularly Latino/a and Asian populations, will account for approximately 65 percent of the growth in the U.S. population through the year 2020 (Spanier, 2004). Lessons learned from community colleges, if examined closely and seriously, can equip four-year colleges and universities with effective tools to prepare for and serve these students.

Characteristics

The literature agrees that Generation 1.5, as defined in this paper, is a varied group (Oudenhoven, 2006; Torres, 2006). The vast majority of students in this population are Latino/a immigrants from Mexico, although many other students immigrate from Central America, South America, and Europe. Within the group, students are native speakers of many different languages. For academic advising, the implication is that various language backgrounds need to be accommodated. As the definition also suggests, many Generation 1.5 students are very young, choosing to apply to and arrive at college immediately after completing high school. Although these students have been educated in the United States anywhere from six to ten years, they are actually native to another country and its educational system.

While the group is varied, it shares some general characteristics that distinguish it from the general student population. The culture of the group is one of the main differences. Part of the difficult college transition for Generation 1.5 students arises from the struggle of reconciliation of their native culture and values with the institutional culture and values (Torres, 2003). Specific cultural values that can impact the college success of Generation 1.5 students are family relationships, cultural immersion at home and at work, and perceptions of college versus the reality. These factors combine to influence the student both externally and internally. As external factors, family and cultural immersion as well as the reality of college put pressure on students as they learn how to cope with living between two different worlds. In addition, each of these factors has an internal effect on these students as they reevaluate who they are in relation to others and form perceptions of the new world of college.

Generally speaking, Generation 1.5 students, who are mostly Latino/a, come from backgrounds that place a premium on the importance of family life; as a result, family is expected to take priority over both work and school. Emphasis on the importance of family can be both a benefit and a hindrance to students. Close ties at home represent an invaluable support system that can provide continuous assistance (Torres, 2003). In addition, encouragement from family can be a powerful force that can motivate students to stay in school and focus on academics.

On the other hand, strong family support can also arise from deep-rooted commitments toward family, including financial responsibilities, time commitments, caring for older or younger family members, or lack of support from other sources. This can mean that a student is living at home and also being relied upon to support the family financially. In this way, time commitments due to work and worry, and possibly even guilt for not working more hours, can weigh heavily. Furthermore, family may not understand the burdensome time commitments of college-level course work, especially group projects and extra time needed to study for tests or final exams. Even more so, the family may not understand the role of extracurricular activities, such as student organizations, lectures, and student government, that enrich and provide deeper meaning to the college experience (Torres, 2003).

Advisers play a precarious role helping Generation 1.5 students navigate family and school commitments, but they also play a very critical role. Since both commitments are extremely important and extremely time-consuming, the adviser can play the essential role of helping the student to balance the demands of home and school. An adviser can also function as a secondary support system, as someone who understands the commitment needed to successfully attain a college education. In this essential role, an adviser can help students understand what the family cannot.

Language

As a result of being foreign-born, most Generation 1.5 students speak a native tongue and have picked up English somewhere along the way as a second, or even third, language. In Oudenhoven's (2006) case study, all participants spoke Spanish as their first language, a phenomenon that is common among Generation 1.5 students. As a result, many of the issues faced by advisers while dealing with this group revolve around language. The adviser faced with the task of promoting student success must do everything in his or her power to ensure that the student is placed in classes at the appropriate level. Class placement includes having appropriate prerequisites for upper-level material. In this role, an adviser faces a challenging situation in realizing that a potential student lacks the necessary preparation in the English language to succeed in classes.

The above example indicates a specific issue that can affect Generation 1.5 students in a four-year institution. Depending on language placement policies in place at a given institution, Generation 1.5 students may be pigeonholed on paper either as American-born students with no extra language assistance needed or as international students where language placement is required to determine the level of English spoken. Either option could be appropriate, depending on the student; however, neither option addresses the dual background of a Generation 1.5 student. These students has spent some, if not all, of their high school years in the United States. Therefore, they possess a solid background in American culture and have been speaking English, if perhaps only in school, for a number of years. On the other hand, one consideration not always addressed through advising placement is the sporadic offering of ESL (English as a second language) courses among high schools. As a result, the student may not have had formalized instruction in the language or the opportunity to study academic usage of English.

Oudenhoven (2006) states that many Generation 1.5 students are “ear learners”; that is, they learned English through listening instead of learning through grammar, rhetoric, and sentence construction. While an ear learner may pass through a conversation convincing an adviser of mastery of the language, simple writing samples can prove differently, and prolonged and detailed conversation leave the student struggling to keep up with the language. Communication difficulties can affect all parts of learning in higher education, from listening to a lecture to asking questions in a study hall.

With current policies in place, the decision should ultimately rest with the student to make the final determination of whether ESL courses are necessary. An adviser's role is not to force students into making decisions they may not agree with, but instead to identify problem areas, such as language difficulty, that can hinder academic success and to inform the student of their options for assistance. Oudenhoven (2006) found in her single-site qualitative study that students preferred the ability to choose whether or not they would take ESL classes or developmental language courses.

Another challenge faced by Generation 1.5 students that can impact the effectiveness and the type of advising offered is a lack of financial aid. For many Generation 1.5 students, financial aid is simply not available, which is one of the major reasons that many of these students have been seen primarily at community colleges in the last ten years. Lack of financial assistance can result in the student working more to cover tuition costs or relying more heavily on family to help cover the costs of education. Additionally, lack of grants or loans to help cover tuition makes the Generation 1.5 student more wary about classes that he or she may not consider necessary, such as ESL courses. An adviser's role is to address this concern in conversation so students understand that a caring professional sees their financial struggle, but may still recommend ESL classes as a necessary step to college success.

Adviser Competency

Before an adviser can be in a solid position to assist Generation 1.5 students, they must also understand the students and their backgrounds. An indispensable resource necessary for all advisers who work with diverse populations is multicultural competency as part of their professional training (Strommer, 2001). As front-line college personnel, advisers must take on the responsibility and privilege of representing the institution. Both the institution and the student will be served in a more effective and positive way when advisers are properly trained on how to interact with students of different backgrounds. While common competencies such as developing nonjudgmental attitudes, flexibility and resourcefulness, listening and observation skills, showing respect and patience, and demonstrating empathy are essential in working with diverse groups of students, other skills such as assuming complexity, allowing ambiguity, and displaying a sense of humor are just as critical for advisers working with students of different backgrounds (Garcia, 1995). Adviser training should be mandatory and ongoing to reflect student enrollment and population change. In addition, formalized training to ensure that all advisers are given the same information would be most effective.

Another way advisers can better serve Generation 1.5 students is to be proactive instead of reactive concerning student needs. Advisers can be initially prepared through comprehensive training in all academic programs, placement, and the referral process. In addition, advisers can take on responsibility for student success through their own independent actions, since endeavors to help a student need not be institutional or office policy. Following up with students is one of the primary ways an adviser can become more involved in student success. This is especially true for Generation 1.5 students because it can help the adviser notice early that problems could be arising in class due to specific challenges faced by students in this group.

Advisers must also keep in mind the stress from class, adjustment, and social experiences that the students are going through. Continuing adjustment to the mainstream culture of the United States and the institution as well as the reality of being a minority on campus are struggles that advisers can play a large role helping students to process. For Generation 1.5 students, some of this pressure occurs as a result of confusion related to identity in college. One area in which confusion can arise, as formerly alluded to, is through ESL classes. After successful high school experiences and graduation, students may feel as though they are fully prepared to go through college. Subsequent notification from an institution of higher education that ESL course work is a prerequisite to composition may be taken as an insult. It is clear that academic success or setbacks can affect a students' sense of achievement and worth. Therefore, an academic adviser must be sensitive to the uncertainty or anger of a Generation 1.5 student placed in mandatory ESL classes.

Finally, developing a mentoring relationship with Generation 1.5 students can be vital to their academic success. In a recent study of Latinos/as in urban higher education, one-on-one attention and individualized help were highly valued by students (Torres, 2006). A mentor can provide stability throughout the adjustment phase during the first year of college, while also introducing ways the student can get involved to help increase the fit a student feels with the institution. Additionally, the adviser, through a mentoring relationship, can keep a pulse on the students' progress in classes and overall match with the university.

Now What?

There are several ways to increase the recognition of Generation 1.5 students as a growing special population as well as ways to provide superior services to them. To gain the attention needed to change the services provided, top-level administrators must take notice of this growing population and prioritize the development and implementation of programs to assist Generation 1.5 students. This holds the most weight in areas where the immigrant populations are rapidly growing, such as the Midwest and West, where the pressure on administration is high to cater to new student populations. New growth areas have much to learn from areas such as the Southwest that have been responding to this issue for years. In addition, ESL placement is an area that needs to be fine-tuned to accommodate the different populations that are using the services. Placement tests should be reevaluated to determine effectiveness and accurate results.

While most advisers cannot change university policies, they can advocate for the students that come to see them and strive for better policies to serve the changing population. While keeping the unique characteristics of the group in mind, advisers must also serve individual students by being cognizant of academic and developmental level as well as personal challenges and successes for each student. As administrators that are allowed the privilege of working with students daily, advisers can serve as the front line where changes to improve services for Generation 1.5 students are developed, refined, and practiced.

References

Garcia, M. H. (1995). An anthropological approach to multicultural diversity training. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 31(4), 490–504.

National Academic Advising Association (n.d.). ESL/international student advising commission: Goals and objectives. Retrieved October 9, 2006, from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/commissions/c26/goals.htm

Oudenhoven, E. D. (2006). Caught in the middle: Generation 1.5 Latino students and English language learning at a community college. (Doctoral dissertation, Loyola University Chicago, 2006). Digital Dissertations, AAT 3212980.

Reinarz, A. G. (2000). Delivering academic advising: Advisor types. In V. N. Gordon & W. R. Habley (Eds.), pp. 210–219. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Spanier, G. B. (2004, October 22). Emerging and persistent issues for first-year students. The Mentor: An Academic Advising Journal, (6)4. Retrieved October 9, 2006, from http://www.psu.edu/dus/mentor/

Strommer, D. W. (2001, May 29). Advising across cultures. The Mentor: An Academic Advising Journal, 3(2). Retrieved October 9, 2006, from http://www.psu.edu/dus/mentor/

Torres, V. (2003). Mi casa is not exactly like your house. About Campus, 8(2), 2–7.

Torres, V. (2006). A mixed method study testing data-model fit of a retention model for Latino/a students at urban universities. Journal of College Student Development, 47(3), 299–318.

About the Author

Laura C. Masterson is a University College academic adviser at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis. She can be reached at lcknapp@indiana.edu or 317-278-1196.

Published in The Mentor on February 28, 2007, by Penn State's Division of Undergraduate Studies
Available online at dus.psu.edu/mentor
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