Depression and anxiety symptoms and their association with academic performance, persistence, and graduation beliefs in first-generation college students

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Abstract The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of mental health, specifically depression and anxiety symptoms, and how they affect academic performance (GPA), persistence, and graduation beliefs in first-generation college (FGC) students. The sample (n = 52,427) consisted of undergraduate students, aged 18-22, and was drawn from 76 colleges and universities throughout the United States. A trio of theories regarding departure and retention characteristics was used as the theoretical framework for this study. Tinto’s Student Integration Model, Bean’s Model of Student Attrition, and Terenzini’s and Reason’s Comprehensive Model of Influences on Student Learning and Persistence, each were used to explain differences in performance and persistence efforts between FGC and non-FGC students. Additionally, the effects of self-efficacy and self-determination in these populations were discussed. The results revealed that FGC students screened higher in prevalence and severity of depression and anxiety than did non-FGC students. The results of stepwise multiple regression analyses confirmed hypotheses that depression and anxiety symptoms have a significant contributing effect on GPA, the number of days that students believe their academic performance is affected by such symptoms, and on student graduation beliefs. Additionally, depression symptoms were found to have a more significant impact on the dependent variables than the effects of anxiety symptoms. These findings provide evidence of the presence of mental health concerns among first-year students, and more so in FGC students. Implications from these findings suggest that colleges and universities should be cognizant and ready to provide unique intervention to FGC students, which prior research has not previously identified. Limitations of this study included the lack of stratification by year in school, and the inclusion of socioeconomic status, which has been shown to be a significant predictor of academic success. These limitations may be overcome in future research.

First-generation, Depression, Anxiety, Academic success