Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Psychological Science


Psychology - General

First Advisor/Chairperson

Jon Barch


First-generation college students (FGCS) often struggle to find academic success unlike continuing-generation college students (CGCS) who often obtain higher GPA by the end of the semester. Using self-determination theory (SDT) as a lens, differences between FGCS and CGCS both at the beginning and end of the semester were investigated. Measures included psychological need fulfillment (autonomy, competence, relatedness), academic self-regulation (relative autonomy index), stress, academic engagement (learning involvement), academic performance (GPA), and retention. Between groups t-tests were used to assess differences in FGCS and CGCS, whereas multiple regression analyses were conducted to test relationships among the measured variables. FGCS reported being more stressed than CGCS. Psychological need fulfillment significantly predicted higher academic self-regulation and lower stress. Academic self-regulation and lowered stress significantly predicted higher academic engagement. Academic engagement significantly predicted academic performance, but did not predict retention. Implications for these results help to reinforce that by increasing psychological need fulfillment within students, stress can be reduced and academic self-regulation along with academic engagement can increase leading students to perform better in college.

Access Type

Open Access