Recruiting, Retaining, and Supporting Students From Underrepresented Racial Minority Backgrounds in Doctoral Counselor Education

Jennie Ju, Rose Merrell-James, J. Kelly Coker, Michelle Ghoston, Javier F. Casado Pérez, Thomas A. Field


Few models exist that inform how counselor education programs proactively address the gap between diverse student needs and effective support. In this study, we utilized grounded theory qualitative research to gain a better understanding of how 15 faculty members in doctoral counselor education and supervision programs reported that their departments responded to the need for recruiting, retaining, and supporting doctoral students from underrepresented racial minority backgrounds. We also explored participants’ reported successes with these strategies. A framework emerged to explain the strategies that counselor education departments have implemented in recruiting, supporting, and retaining students from underrepresented racial minority backgrounds. The main categories identified were: (a) institutional and program characteristics, (b) recruitment strategies, and (c) support and retention strategies. The latter two main categories both had the same two subcategories, namely awareness and understanding, and proactive and intentional efforts. The latter subcategory had three subthemes of connecting to cultural identity, providing personalized support, and faculty involvement.  

Keywords: underrepresented racial minority, recruitment, retention, counselor education, doctoral


For the past several years, doctoral counselor education and supervision (CES) programs accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) have experienced a greater enrollment of students from diverse backgrounds (CACREP, 2014, 2015). According to the CACREP Vital Statistics report (2018), two-fifths of doctoral students have a diverse racial or ethnic identity. This stands in contrast to the less than 30% of full-time faculty in CACREP-accredited programs who identify as having a diverse racial or ethnic identity. In 2012, the total doctoral-level enrollment in CACREP institutions was 2,028, where 37% of the students were from racially or ethnically diverse backgrounds (CACREP, 2014). Enrollment increased to 2,561 in 2017, with 1,016 students from racially or ethnically diverse communities, which translates to 39.7% of total enrollment (CACREP, 2018).

Accompanying this trend is a growing awareness that diverse doctoral students in counseling and related disciplines are not receiving adequate support and preparation to succeed (Barker, 2016; Henfield et al., 2011; Hollingsworth & Fassinger, 2002; Zeligman et al., 2015). CACREP-accredited programs are charged with making a “continuous and systematic effort to attract, enroll, and retain a diverse group of students and to create and support an inclusive learning community” (CACREP, 2016, section 1.K.). Yet few models exist that inform how CES programs proactively address the gap between diverse student needs and effective support. Literature is limited on this topic. Little is known about effective and comprehensive structures for recruiting, supporting, and retaining CES doctoral students from underrepresented minority (URM) backgrounds that take into consideration CACREP standards, student needs, economics, sociocultural barriers, and student opportunities.

In this study, we used Federal definitions of URM status in higher education to guide our inquiry. A section of the U.S. Code pertaining to minority persons provides the following definition for minority, and it is the one we chose to use in our study: “American Indian, Alaskan Native, Black (not of Hispanic origin), Hispanic (including persons of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Central or South American origin), Pacific Islander, or other ethnic group” (Definitions, 20 U.S.C. 20 § 1067k, 2020). This definition is important to higher education, as it is used by institutions to allocate funding for URM students. We note here that cultural diversity also spans other aspects of minority status, such as gender identity, sexual/affectional identity, and ability/disability status, among others. We restricted the focus of this study to exploring racial identity pertinent to URM status, following the U.S. Code definition.

Recruitment of Doctoral Students From URM Backgrounds
     Understanding the diversification of doctoral students in CES programs begins by first considering effective methods for recruitment used by those programs. Recruitment of CES doctoral students of color may necessitate intentional and active approaches, such as building personal connections in the community and family (Hipolito-Delgado et al., 2017; McCallum, 2016). CES doctoral programs might consider recruitment not as a yearly endeavor, but a long-term, day-to-day strategy. Early exposure, responsiveness to student needs (e.g., financial needs), commitment to diversity (e.g., hiring and retaining faculty members from diverse backgrounds), community relationships, and program location have all been identified as important factors to consider in the extant literature.

Early Exposure and Recruitment
     Programs can promote more representative recruitment through earlier exposure to the disciplinary field and community connections (Grapin et al., 2016; Hipolito-Delgado et al., 2017; McCallum, 2016). Introducing the possibility of pursuing doctoral studies in CES during the high school and undergraduate experience can increase student familiarity with the profession and may promote their long-term attention to the field (Luedke et al., 2019; McCallum, 2016). McCallum (2015, 2016) found that early familial and social messages about the low viability of doctoral studies was a deterrent among African American students and that mentorship and exposure to doctoral careers by professionals can help renew interest. Many undergraduate students from culturally diverse backgrounds lack opportunities to learn and develop ownership of doctoral-level professions and in some cases lack knowledge that those professions even exist (Grapin et al., 2016; Luedke et al., 2019).

Responsiveness to Needs and Commitment to Diversity
     To successfully recruit doctoral students from culturally diverse backgrounds, CES programs need to be responsive to potential students’ needs. In fact, a program’s commitment to diversity and the demonstration of that commitment through student and faculty representation have been found to be highly influential factors in applicants’ decisions to enter a doctoral program (Foxx et al., 2018; Grapin et al., 2016; Zeligman et al., 2015). An additional aspect of this responsiveness in recruitment is the program’s ability to ensure and provide financial support to incoming students (Dieker et al., 2013; Proctor & Romano, 2016). Given the unique barriers experienced by culturally diverse communities throughout the educational system, doctoral programs can be prepared to compensate for some of these obstacles through financial and academic support.

Community Relationships and Program Location
     In keeping with recruitment as a long-term endeavor, research has found that community relationships and program location are essential when recruiting doctoral students from culturally diverse backgrounds (Foxx et al., 2018; Hipolito-Delgado et al., 2017). CES programs can look to build relationships with their local culturally diverse communities and recruit from those communities, rather than looking nationally for their doctoral students (Foxx et al., 2018; Hipolito-Delgado et al., 2017). Proctor and Romano (2016) found that proximity to representative communities and applicants’ support systems had a significant impact on their decision to enter doctoral programs. Community connections also offered more opportunities to clarify admission requirements for interested students, a barrier for many first-generation students (Dieker et al., 2013; Hipolito-Delgado et al., 2017).

Support and Retention of Culturally Diverse Doctoral Students

Once admitted to a doctoral program in CES, program faculty are required by the CACREP (2015) standards to make a continuous and systematic effort to not only recruit but also to retain a diverse group of students. To do so, faculty should be attentive to both common and unique personal and social challenges, experiences of marginalization and isolation, and acculturative challenges that students from URM backgrounds may face.

Personal and Social Challenges
     Students from URM backgrounds have faced ongoing challenges with their ability to establish a clear voice and ethnic identity in predominately Euro-American CES programs (Baker & Moore, 2015; González, 2006; Guillory, 2009; Lerma et al., 2015). This phenomenon has been written about for decades (Lewis et al., 2004). Lewis et al. (2004) described the lived experiences of African American doctoral students at a predominantly Euro-American, Carnegie level R1 research institution. Key themes that emerged included feelings of isolation, tokenism, difficulty in developing relationships with Euro-American peers, and learning to negotiate the system. Further review of the literature found consistent challenges across diverse students, especially with establishing voice and ethnic identity (Baker & Moore, 2015; González, 2006; Lerma et al., 2015). Guillory (2009) noted that the level of difficulty American Indian students will face in college depends in large measure on how they see and use their ethnic identity. Utilizing a narrative inquiry approach, Hinojosa and Carney (2016) found that five Mexican American female students experienced similar challenges in maintaining their ethnic identities while navigating doctoral education culture.

Challenges of Marginalization and Isolation
     Marginalization and isolation were additional common themes across diverse groups. Blockett et al. (2016) concluded that students experience marginalization in three areas of socialization, including faculty mentorship, professional involvement, and environmental support. Other researchers have also concluded that both overt and covert racism is a contributing factor to marginalization in the university culture (Behl et al., 2017; González, 2006; Haizlip, 2012; Henfield et al., 2013; Interiano & Lim, 2018; Protivnak & Foss, 2009). Study themes also indicated that students often expressed frustration from tokenism in which they felt expectations to represent the entire race during doctoral programs (Baker & Moore, 2015; Haizlip, 2012; Henfield et al., 2013; Lerma et al., 2015; Woo et al., 2015). Henfield et al. (2011) investigated 11 African American doctoral students and found that the challenges included negative campus climates regarding race, feelings of isolation, marginalization, and lack of racial peer groups during their graduate education. Similarly, using critical race theory to examine how race affects student experience, Henfield et al. (2013) found African American students experienced a lack of respect from faculty because of their racial and ethnic differences. Students who had previously studied at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) or Hispanic serving institutions (HSIs) reported that the lack of racial/ethnic diversity representation during doctoral study in predominantly White institutions (PWIs) contributed to their experience of stress, anxiety, and irritation (Henfield et al., 2011, 2013).

Culture and Acculturation Challenges
     Collectivity and community seem to be consistent values that doctoral students from URM backgrounds have expressed as missing or not understood by faculty (González, 2006; Lerma et al., 2015). For example, faculty may not understand familia, a Latinx student’s obligation to family  (González, 2006; Lerma et al., 2015). Several authors have reported that culturally diverse doctoral students experience difficulty adjusting to a curriculum or program that values a Eurocentric individualist form of counseling (Behl et al., 2017; Interiano & Lim, 2018; Woo et al., 2015).

International students also experience similar anxiety and stress during their doctoral studies in the United States. In addition to adjusting to speaking and writing in a language that may not be their primary language, their supervision skills and clinical abilities can be questioned by Euro-American supervisees despite international students having advanced training and supervisory status (Behl et al., 2017). Interiano and Lim (2018) used the term “chameleonic identity” (p. 310) to describe foreign-born doctoral students’ attempts to adapt to the Euro-American cultural context of their CES programs. They posited that international students experienced a sense of conflict, loss, and grief associated with the pressure to adopt cultural norms embedded in Euro-American counseling and higher education in the United States.

Strategies to Support and Retain Culturally Diverse Doctoral Students

     To address these stressors and barriers to persistence in doctoral studies, faculty members can employ several strategies to support and retain students from culturally diverse backgrounds, such as mentorship, advising, increasing faculty diversity, understanding students’ cultures, and offering student support services.

     Some scholars recommend intentional utilization of mentorship as a strategy for improving retention and graduation rates of diverse students in higher education (Evans & Cokley, 2008; Rogers & Molina, 2006). Chan et al. (2015) defined mentoring relationships as a “one-to-one ongoing connection between a more experienced member (mentor) and less experienced member (protégé) that is aimed to promote the professional and personal growth of the protégé through coaching, support and guidance” (p. 593). Chan and colleagues added that mentoring can involve transferring needed information, feedback, and encouragement to the protégé as well as providing emotional support.

Zeligman and colleagues (2015) indicated that mentoring impacts both the recruitment and the retention of doctoral students from URM backgrounds. The quality and significance of mentoring relationships and participants’ connection with faculty members during a doctoral program seems to influence choice in continuing doctoral study for URM students (Baker & Moore, 2015; Protivnak & Foss, 2009). Blackwell (1987) noted that the most powerful predictor of enrollment and graduation of African American students at a professional school was the presence of an African American faculty member serving as the student’s mentor.

Although a powerful tool for recruiting and retaining diverse doctoral students, mentoring can also create retention issues if inadequate or problematic. Students may receive ambiguous answers to advising questions and may not receive support when life circumstances interfere with study (Baker & Moore, 2015; Henfield et al., 2013; Interiano & Lim, 2018). In such situations, some students may seek other faculty mentors within the department (Baker & Moore, 2015; Henfield et al., 2013; Interiano & Lim, 2018) or may specifically establish mentoring relationships with faculty from diverse cultural backgrounds to receive greater support for their experience of being a person of color (González, 2006; Woo et al., 2015; Zeligman et al., 2015). Diverse students may also seek mentors from outside of their doctoral program. Woo and colleagues (2015) found that international students selected professional counseling mentors from their home community that they considered to be caring and nonjudgmental of their doctoral work in comparison to faculty supervisors they felt were neither culturally sensitive nor supportive of international students.

Because of an existing disparity in the availability of African American counselor educators and supervisors who can serve as mentors to African American doctoral counseling students, Euro-American counselor educators and supervisors can provide mentorship support to underrepresented African American doctoral students. Brown and Grothaus (2019) conducted a phenomenological study with 10 African American doctoral counseling students. The authors found that trust was a primary factor in establishing successful cross-racial relationships, and that African American students could benefit from “networks of privilege” (p. 218) during cross-racial mentoring. The authors also found that if issues of racism and oppression are not addressed, it can interfere with establishing mentoring relationships.

Establishing same-race, cross-race, and/or cultural community affiliations provides support to culturally diverse doctoral students. In addition, increasing faculty diversity can be a viable measure to support and retain diverse doctoral students.

Increasing Faculty Diversity
     The presence of diverse faculty members in CES has been discussed in the literature as a positive element in the recruitment, support, and retention of diverse doctoral students (Henfield et al., 2013; Lerma et al., 2015; Zeligman et al., 2015). Henfield and colleagues (2013) emphasized the need to proactively recruit and retain African American CES faculty to attract, recruit, and retain African American CES doctoral students. Recruiting and retaining faculty members from URM backgrounds requires intentional effort. Ponjuan (2011) suggested the development of mentoring policies that establish Hispanic learning communities and improve overall departmental climate as efforts to help increase the number of Latinx faculty at an institution. The next section discusses the relational significance of having counselor educator mentors who share cultural backgrounds and worldviews.

Understanding of Students’ Culture
     Lerma et al. (2015) recommended that doctoral faculty in CES programs be responsive to both the professional and personal development of their students. One area of dissonance for doctoral students from URM backgrounds involves differences in cultural worldview. Marsella and Pederson (2004) posited that “Western psychology is rooted in an ideology of individualism, rationality, and empiricism that has little resonance in many of the more than 5,000 cultures found in today’s world” (p. 414). Ng and Smith (2009) found that international counselor trainees, particularly those from non-Western nations, struggle with integrating Eurocentric theories and concepts into the world they know. This presents opportunities for counselor educators to intentionally search for appropriate pedagogies and to critically present readings and other media that portray the multicultural perspective (Goodman et al., 2015).

Counseling departments can promote, facilitate, and value a multicultural orientation when focusing on student success and development. Lerma et al. (2015) and Castellanos et al. (2006) emphasized the need to understand the importance of family and peer support among Latinx students and faculty, specifically in recreating familia in the academic environment to help increase resilience. When working with African American students, Henfield et al. (2013) recommended that faculty should possess an understanding and respect of African American culture and be more “cognizant of how a history of oppression may influence students’ perception, behavior, and nonbehavior” (p. 134). Faculty members should also possess an understanding of student financial difficulties and potential knowledge gaps in preparation for graduate school (González, 2006; Zeligman et al., 2015).

Student Support Services
     Another effective area of support for doctoral students from diverse backgrounds is student-based services. These services include broader institutionally based resources, student-guided groups or activities, and community-based efforts. Institutional resources that seem to hold promise in increasing support for and the potential success of diverse students include race-based organizations (Henfield et al., 2011). Peer support has been consistently identified as an important factor in doctoral student persistence (Chen et al., 2020; Henfield et al., 2011; Rogers & Molina, 2006). Student-centered organizations can effectively provide a sense of belonging and an environment that facilitates peer support among those with shared interests on campus (Rogers & Molina, 2006). Henfield et al. (2011) found that African American students sought collaborative support through race-based campus organizations and with students who share similar backgrounds and interests. Multicultural-based, student-centered organizations and events are resources that institutions utilize as active support for multicultural individuals that contribute to “sustaining diverse students to reach the finish line of graduation with a strong foundation from which to launch their counseling career” (Chen et al., 2020, p. 10).

Chen et al. (2020) and Behl et al. (2017) have both reported that writing centers are an important support for international students as well as students from refugee, immigrant, and underprivileged communities. Ng (2006) reported that counseling students from non–English-speaking countries often experience challenges related to English proficiency. Chen et al. (2020) added that tutoring in writing is critical for students who come from cultures that are unaccustomed to the formal use of writing styles (e.g., APA style). Furthermore, helping international students understand classroom norms and culture through an orientation as part of the onboarding process can be a preventive support (Behl et al., 2017).

Purpose of the Present Study
     The CACREP standards have created expectations and requirements for counseling programs to recruit, retain, and support students from diverse backgrounds. There now exists a wide swath of literature that has reported a variety of efforts toward these goals (Baker & Moore, 2015; Evans & Cokley, 2008; Rogers & Molina, 2006; Woo et al., 2015). Yet at the time of writing, there is not a clearly articulated path for CES programs to follow with regard to these efforts. For example, there is currently no information available regarding which strategies are more successful or easier to implement than others. This study aimed to address this gap in knowledge for how to attract, support, and retain students from diverse backgrounds in CES doctoral programs. The purpose of our study was to explore: (a) strategies doctoral programs use to recruit, retain, and support underrepresented doctoral students from diverse backgrounds, and (b) the level of success these programs have had with their implemented strategies.


Throughout the study, we were grounded by a shared belief in constructivist philosophy that participants’ realities are socially co-constructed, and therefore, all responses are valued regardless of frequency. From this philosophical position, we chose to approach the topic using a qualitative framework (Lincoln & Guba, 2013). Grounded theory was selected because it utilizes a systematic and progressive gathering and analysis of data, followed by grounding the concepts in data that accurately describe the participants’ own voices (Charmaz, 2014; Corbin & Strauss, 2015). This approach allows the integration of both the art and science aspects of inquiry while supporting systematic development of theoretical constructs that promote richer comprehension and explanation of social phenomena (Charmaz, 2014; Corbin & Strauss, 2015). Through the grounded theory approach, we hoped to establish an emergent framework to explain practice and provide recommendations for CES programs striving to support diverse doctoral students.

This study was part of a larger comprehensive qualitative study based on the basic qualitative research design described by Merriam and Tisdell (2016) that examined a series of issues pertinent to doctoral counselor education. Preston et al. (2020) described the larger qualitative project that involved the collection and analysis of in-depth qualitative interviews with 15 doctoral-level counselor educators. This article focuses on the analysis of interview data gathered through two of the interview questions: 1) Which strategies has your program used to recruit underrepresented students from diverse backgrounds? How successful were those? and 2) Which strategies has your program used to support and retain underrepresented students from diverse backgrounds? How successful were those?

Researcher Positioning, Role, and Bias
     The last author utilized the etic position, which is through the perspective of the observer, to conduct all interviews with selected participants. Approaching the interview process around the topic of doctoral-level counselor education through the etic status was important because the author had not worked in a doctoral-level CES program previously but has been a member of the counselor education community.

The situational context was composed of the researchers’ and participants’ experiences and perceptions, the social environment, and the interaction between them (Ponterotto, 2005). Therefore, we engaged in reflexivity to increase self-awareness of biases related to this topic (Corbin & Strauss, 2015). This required continual examination of the potential influence that identified biases may have on the research process. In keeping with the standard of reflexivity, we recorded our personal experiences as they related to the research questions with the use of memoing to bracket potential biases throughout the coding and analysis process.

All members of the research team are from CACREP-accredited institutions in the Western and Eastern parts of the United States. The coding team consisted of the first four authors. The fifth author contributed to writing the manuscript, and the sixth author conducted the interviews as part of the larger study and assisted in writing sections of the methodology. All four coding team members had previously been doctoral students in a CES program, though only one of the coding team members had ever worked in a CES doctoral program as a full-time faculty member. This person thus had emic positioning, while other team members held etic positioning.

Four of the five members of the coding team were from diverse backgrounds themselves and were influenced by their personal experiences as doctoral students. Two members of the coding team identified as cisgender, heterosexual African American females. One member identified as a cisgender, heterosexual Asian American female and another as a cisgender, heterosexual Euro-American female. The coding team members were aware of potential biases around expectations toward the programs discussed in the transcripts and recognized the need to closely examine personal perceptions and understanding of the interview data.

Two coding team members observed the lack of racial/ethnic diversity at the counseling programs where they currently work. They experienced Eurocentric, non–culturally responsive methods of support and development that led them to recognize the potential bias of shared experience with multicultural participants. One coding team member was Euro-American and was a part of an all Euro-American doctoral cohort. The program they attended had an all Euro-American faculty and she wondered whether the predominantly Euro-American participants in this study had an understanding of the challenges of diverse students. Having taught in doctoral programs, this researcher was aware of potential biases around types of universities that might be successful in recruiting but less so in retaining diverse students.

     Participants were selected based on the following study design criteria: 1) current full-time core faculty members in CES, and 2) currently working in a doctoral-level CES program that is accredited by CACREP. At the time of writing, there were 85 CACREP-accredited doctoral CES programs in the United States (CACREP, 2019). Purposeful sampling was used to identify and recruit participants who had experiences working in doctoral-level counselor education (Merriam & Tisdell, 2016). Information-rich cases were sought to understand the phenomenon of interest.

Maximum variation sampling was also employed for the purposes of understanding the perspectives of counselor educators from diverse backgrounds with regard to demographic characteristics and program characteristics and to avoid premature saturation (Merriam & Tisdell, 2016). Based on the belief that counselor educator perspectives may differ by background, the research team used the following criteria to select participants: (a) racial and ethnic self-identification; (b) gender self-identification; (c) length of time working in doctoral-level CES programs; (d) Carnegie classification of the university where the participant was currently working (The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, 2019); (e) region of the counselor education program where the participant was currently working, using regions commonly defined by national counselor education associations and organizations; and (f) delivery mode of the counselor education program where the participant was currently working (e.g., in-person, online; Preston et al., 2020).

The 15 study participants belonged to separate doctoral-level CES programs, with no more than one participant representing each program. The sample was composed of 11 participants (73.3%) who self-identified as White, with multiracial/multiethnic (n = 1, 6.7%), African American (n = 1, 6.7%), Asian (n = 1, 6.7%), and Latinx ethnic backgrounds (n = 1, 6.7%) also represented. Seven participants self-identified as female (46.7%), eight participants as male (53.3%), and none identified as non-binary or transgender. The majority of participants identified as heterosexual (n = 14, 93.3%), with one participant (6.7%) identifying as bisexual.

Participants’ experience as faculty members averaged full-time work for 19.7 years (SD = 9.0 years) and a median of 17 years, with a range from 4 to 34 years. For most of those years, participants worked in doctoral-level CES programs (M = 17.3 years, SD = 9.2 years, Mdn = 16 years), ranging from 3 to 33 years. More than half of participants (n = 9, 60%) spent their entire careers working in doctoral-level CES programs. Geographic distribution of the programs where participants worked were as follows: eight belonged to the Southern region (53.3%); two each (13.3%) belonged to the North Atlantic, North Central, and Western regions; and one program (6.7%) belonged to the Rocky Mountain region. Twelve participants (80%) were working in brick-and-mortar programs, and three participants (20%) were working in online or hybrid programs. With regard to Carnegie classification representation, nine (60%) were working at Doctoral Universities – Very High Research Activity (i.e., R1) institutions, two (13.3%) were working at Doctoral Universities – High Research Activity (i.e., R2) institutions, and four (26.7%) were working at universities with the Master’s Colleges and Universities: Larger Programs designation (The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, 2019; Preston et al., 2020).

     After receiving approval from the last author’s IRB, the last author used the CACREP (2018) website directory to identify and recruit doctoral-level counselor educators who worked at the CACREP-accredited CES programs. Recruitment emails were sent to one faculty member at each of the 85 accredited programs. Fifteen of the 34 faculty (40% response rate) who responded were selected to participate on the basis of maximal variation.

Interview Protocol
     Each interview began with demographic questions that addressed self-identified characteristics such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual/affectional orientation, years as a faculty member, years working in doctoral-level CES programs, number of doctoral programs the participant had worked in, and regions of the programs in which the counselor educator had worked. A series of eight in-depth interviews followed to address the research questions of the larger qualitative study. Interview questions developed in accordance with Patton’s (2014) guidelines were open-ended, as neutral as possible, avoided “why” questions, and were asked one at a time in a semi-structured interview protocol, with sparse follow-up questions salient to the main questions to ensure understanding of participant responses. Adhering to the interview protocol as outlined in Appendix A helped to ensure that data was gathered for each research question to the highest extent possible. Participants received the interview questions ahead of time upon signing the informed consent agreement. A pilot of the interview protocol was conducted with a faculty member in a doctoral-level CES program prior to commencing the study.

The interviews lasted approximately 60 minutes and were recorded using the Zoom online platform. One exception was an interview that occurred in-person during a professional conference and thus was recorded via a Sony digital audio recorder. All demographic information and recordings were assigned an alphabetical identifier known only to the last author and were blinded to subsequent transcribers and coders.

Data Analysis
     Data analysis, as outlined by Corbin and Strauss (2015), employs the techniques of coding interview data to derive and develop concepts. In the initial step of open coding, the primary task is to “break data apart and delineate concepts to stand for blocks of raw data” (Corbin & Strauss, 2015, p. 197). During this step, the coding team sought to identify a list of significant participant statements about how they and their department perceive, value, and experience the responsibility of recruiting, retaining, and supporting underrepresented cultural groups. We met to code the first three of 15 transcripts together via Zoom video platform. The task of identifying codes included searching for data that was salient to the research questions and engaging in constant comparison until reaching saturation (Corbin & Strauss, 2015). We maintained a master codebook of participant statements that the team decided were relevant, then added descriptions and categories to the codes. Utilizing this same strategy, the remaining 12 transcripts were coded in dyads to make sure the coding team was not overlooking pertinent information.

When discrepancies occurred, the coding team utilized the following methods to resolve them:
(a) checking with each other for clarification and understanding of each person’s view on the code, (b) reviewing previous and subsequent lines for context, (c) slowing down the pace of coding to allow space for reflection on the team members’ thoughts and feeling about a code, (d) considering the creation of a new code if one part of the statement added new data that was not covered in the first part of the statement, and (e) referring back to the research questions to determine relevance of the statement. Discrepancies in coding were questions around statements that: (a) were vague, (b) contained multiple codes, (c) were similarly phrased, (d) reflected a wish rather than an action on the part of the program, and (e) presented interesting information about the participant’s program but did not address the research question.

The subsequent step of axial coding involved the task of relating concepts and categories to each other, from which the contexts and processes of the phenomena emerge (Corbin & Strauss, 2015). The researchers then framed emerging themes and concepts to identify higher-level concepts and lower-level properties as well as delineated relationships between categories until saturation was reached. In the step of selective coding, the researchers engaged in an ongoing process of integrating and refining the framework that emerged from categories and relationships to form one central concept (Strauss & Corbin, 1998).

     Standards of trustworthiness were achieved by incorporating procedures as outlined by Creswell et al. (2007) and Merriam and Tisdell (2016). The strategies included enhancing credibility through clarification of researcher bias to illustrate the researchers’ position as well as identifying a priori biases and assumptions that could potentially impact our inquiry. In addition, the research team members were from different counselor education programs, which contributed to moderating bias in coding and analysis. In an attempt to avoid interpreting data too early during the coding process, the researchers used emergent, in vivo, verbatim, line-by-line open coding. Furthermore, the interviewer intentionally chose not to participate in coding the data in order to minimize bias through being too close to the data. To promote consistency, the last author clearly identified and trained research teams associated with the larger study. The last author also used member checking and kept an audit trail of the process to enhance credibility. Purposive sampling and thick description were used to ensure adequate representation of perspectives and thus strengthen the transferability and dependability qualities of the study (Merriam & Tisdell, 2016).


Implementing strategies that make a difference was the central concept in describing the process of CES faculty participants’ experience with recruiting and retaining diverse doctoral students. These strategies refer to programmatic steps that counselor educator interview participants had found to be effective in the recruitment, support, and retention of culturally diverse doctoral students. This central concept was composed of three progressive and interconnected categories, each with its own subcategories, properties, and accompanying dimensions. These three categories were institutional and program characteristics, recruitment strategies, and support and retention strategies. The three major categories shared the subcategory of awareness and understanding, while the recruitment strategies and support and retention strategies categories shared the subcategory of proactive and intentional efforts. The conceptual diagram of these categories and subcategories is depicted in Figure 1.


Figure 1  

Conceptual Diagram of Strategies That Make a Difference in Recruiting and Supporting
Culturally Diverse Doctoral Students


Institutional and Program Characteristics
     The category institutional and program characteristics refers to features that are a part of program identity. This category was significant, as it represents the backdrop for a unique set of conditions in which the participants experienced the limitations as well as strengths of the program environment. Institutional and program characteristics may be part of the institution’s natural setting that the faculty participant had little control over, such as geographic location, institution size, institution reputation, tuition cost, or demographic composition of the area in which the program was located. At times, these factors were helpful for recruitment purposes. One participant described how the program’s geographic location positively impacted the recruitment of prospective students, including diverse students: “We are the only doctoral program in the state, so I think that carries some clout.” Another participant added, “A lot of it is financial . . . They largely choose programs because they are geographically convenient, so they can work or be close to family. So, their choice is largely guided by economic and geographic factors.”

Institutional and program characteristics also included factors that influenced support and retention of diverse students through their doctoral journey. Characteristics mentioned as either a hindrance or a support for diverse students included: (a) presence of diverse faculty, visual representation, and student body; (b) supportive environment for diverse students; (c) faculty attitudes and dispositions which create either a welcoming or hostile sociocultural climate; (d) fellowship or scholarship monies intended for diverse students; (e) evidence of valuing of and commitment to diversity; (f) multicultural and social justice focused activities; and (g) faculty who share common research interests with their students. From this list, it was evident that doctoral students seemed best supported by program qualities and actions that communicated a valuing of and commitment to diversity.

Awareness and Understanding
     Participants indicated awareness that the context in which the institution and program exist presents as either a hindrance or a benefit to diversity. For example, geographic location and demographic composition of the locality can pose a barrier to recruitment as one participant expressed: “Our university itself is not going to attract people. It is a very White community.” This participant understands that this means the program will need to develop specific recruitment efforts to mitigate this potential barrier to “show students that this is a program that would be welcoming and take proactive steps to do that.”

Participants also indicated an awareness that students can sense whether diversity-related issues will be given priority. One participant stated, “Students are really astute about getting a sense for how committed a department is to diversity. So, having tangible evidence there is a willingness to commit to diversity at the faculty level is super important.” Another participant shared, “Our interview process is a barrier . . . There can be some privileged White males who are highly, highly confrontational, and I don’t think that’s an appropriate recruitment style for sending a welcoming message to minority candidates.”

Recruitment Strategies
     The second major category identified in the data, recruitment strategies, pertains to the process of developing and implementing plans for the primary purpose of attracting individuals from diverse backgrounds to apply and enroll in the program. The recruitment strategies category is composed of two subcategories that are shared with the support and retention strategies, namely awareness and understanding and proactive and intentional efforts.

Awareness and Understanding
Participants shared a variety of responses regarding their awareness and understanding of the importance of creating a diverse learning community. Some participants reported that their departments proactively sought to recruit underrepresented students, whereas others acknowledged that their departments made no such attempt. At times, this was due to the structure of recruiting at the university: “Our program doesn’t necessarily get involved in admissions that much . . . We have an admissions team, and they have a whole series of strategies in place.” At other times, participants reported that their program was unintentional about recruiting diverse students: “We don’t have any good strategy particularly. It’s accident, dumb luck and accident.” One participant experienced distress and confusion because of their program’s perceived misalignment with CACREP standards: “These are key standards for programs, and one that programs have struggled with, and we certainly have too.”

Proactive and Intentional Efforts
     Participants reported engaging social resources such as personal connections and networks to recruit diverse students. As one participant described, “Recruiting diverse students begins with personal networks. So, we use personal networks, professional networks, alumni network.” In addition to recruiting through alumni and professional organizations and conferences, participants found success through partnerships with community agencies as well as building relationships with HBCUs and HSIs. One participant captured the process this way: “It’s about maintaining relationships with graduates, with colleagues. We know, for us to diversify our student body, we cannot just look to the surrounding states to produce a diverse student body. We have to go beyond that.”

In addition to reaching out to master’s programs with sizable diverse student populations, one common strategic effort involved finding financial support for diverse doctoral students, from departmental, institutional, or external funding sources. One participant stated, “We also know in our program where the sources for funding underrepresented populations are; we know how to hook people into those sources of funding.” Another participant shared, “Our institutions have funding mechanisms, including some that are for historically marginalized populations or underrepresented populations. We have been successful in applying for those and getting those.”

Participants indicated a commitment to making changes to their typical mode of recruitment strategy and recognized that supporting diverse students required the implementation of strategies that differed from typical recruiting and retaining activities. Three subcategories that emerged as representing effective recruitment and support strategies were (a) connection to cultural identity, (b) providing personalized support, and (c) involvement of faculty.

Connection to Cultural Identity. Consistent with the literature, participants reported that students seemed drawn to programs that valued their cultural background and research interests associated with their identity. For example, participants reported that it was important to have faculty who are interested in promoting social justice and diversity and sharing similar research interests to their students. As one participant described: “The student picked us because we supported their research interest of racial battle fatigue.” This participant had shared with their prospective student that “I’m really excited about that [topic], and it overlaps with my own research in historical trauma with native populations.”

Personalized Support. Participants indicated personalized support was crucial to recruiting diverse students to their CES doctoral program. One participant reported that most of the diverse students who chose to attend their doctoral program typically shared the same response when asked about their choice: “Their comments are consistent. . . . They say, ‘We came and interviewed, and we met you, and we met the students, and we feel cared about.’”

Faculty Involvement. Third, faculty involvement was an essential component of proactive and intentional efforts. Faculty involvement seemed to take a variety of forms: (a) activities related to promoting multiculturalism and social justice, (b) engagement in diverse areas of the profession and representing the program well, and (c) advocating to connect potential students to external funding resources or professional opportunities. One participant explained faculty involvement this way: “An anchor person who strongly identifies not only with their own diversity, but also with a body of scholarship related to diversity.” Another participant shared, “Our faculty have had some nice engagements with organizations and research strands focused on multiculturalism and social justice issues.” These types of involvement made an impact on the impressions of prospective students from diverse backgrounds: “We have students who came to us and said, ‘I looked at the work your faculty were doing, I looked at what they said was important on the website, and it struck a chord with me.’”

Support and Retention Strategies
     The third major category of support and retention strategies was characterized as responding to awareness and understanding of diverse students’ perspectives, experiences, and needs while enrolled in the doctoral program. Participants reported that faculty engaged in proactive and intentional efforts that integrated considerations for cultural identity, personalized support, and faculty involvement.

Awareness and Understanding
As with recruitment, participants reported that successful retention and support of enrolled doctoral students integrated considerations for the students’ cultural identity as well as values, needs, and interests that are a part of that identity. One participant described exploring missing aspects of each student’s experience for the purpose of providing effective support: “It’s super important on a very regular basis to sit down with students of color specifically and talk with them about what they’re not getting . . . those conversations really are key.” Often, these personalized conversations are part of a healthy, intentional mentoring relationship in which students are purposely paired with faculty who can understand their experience, support them in navigating professional organizations, and foster success in the program and in their future career. Two participants added that an effective support strategy involves reaching out and engaging in regular conversations about student struggles and experience with microaggressions, tokenism, or other socioemotional matters.

Some participants reported that diverse students may be lacking in foundational skills and knowledge that put them at a disadvantage in the doctoral program, such as deficits in research competence. Personal conversations between mentors and protégés include being “willing to have difficult conversations about skill deficits” in a manner that encourages and empowers diverse students to succeed.

Proactive and Intentional Efforts
     Successful education of diverse doctoral students is a mission that requires thoughtful, intentional, and proactive efforts on the part of doctoral faculty. A participant whose program had a good track record in recruiting diverse students explained, “Proactive efforts take a lot of thought” and aiming for effective retention necessitates “an intentional effort, and that’s what it takes to provide comfort for a more diverse group of students.” For many participants in the study, showing intentionality started with provision of financial support in the form of scholarships, fellowships, and graduate assistantships. Doctoral faculty also advocated for students by connecting them to funding sources because financial support “is the best predictor of keeping people in the program.”

     Connection to Cultural Identity. Proactive and intentional efforts were considered to be a step beyond planning, in that doctoral faculty commit tangible and intangible resources along with taking actions toward promoting diversity in the program. In addition to inquiring about the missing aspects of their identity in the program, participants reported that ongoing conversations about cultural identity during the students’ program of study was important to support and retention. For example, some students chose a doctoral program to pursue a specific line of research connected with cultural identity and wanted their faculty members to make intentional efforts to help them further their line of inquiry related to cultural issues.

     Personalized Support. Participants reported that personalized support was a critical strategy in helping culturally diverse doctoral students to thrive in the program. Participants believed that supportive faculty–student relationships had a strong impact on retention. As articulated by one participant, “One of our strengths is the relationship that we have with our students . . . it may be making the difference in the students that we keep.” Participants also used a buddy system whereby each student applicant was paired with a current doctoral student as their go-to person for any questions or concerns, to help them transition into the program.

Faculty Involvement. Embracing diversity is a proactive and intentional business, which translated to participants purposefully and thoughtfully changing the way they interact with prospective and current students from diverse backgrounds. Participants reported that diverse students may need more availability and outreach from faculty. As one participant stated, “We try to be available to them when they’ve got concerns that they need to address. We’re always trying to reach out more and being more proactive.” This proactive responsiveness and intentional mentoring seemed particularly important with regard to helping diverse students with professional identity development. One participant reflected that “some students coming from diverse backgrounds are going to need to be socialized into the profession, to make them comfortable in that identity.” Elaborating further, this participant said that, “this requires a lot of very intentional mentoring” and included formal as well as informal activities. For example, they said, “Even having them come to conferences, to introduce them to people. Having meals with them. Modeling how you interact with colleagues. Making sure they go to luncheons . . . to dinners.”


In this study, 15 counselor educator participants gave voice to strategies that doctoral programs use to recruit, retain, and support underrepresented doctoral students from diverse backgrounds and their perceptions of the level of success these programs have had with their implemented strategies. We examined these experiences and identified two overarching themes of awareness and understanding and proactive and intentional efforts in the way they approached the need to recruit and support diverse doctoral students.

During the process of data analysis, a substantive framework emerged to explain participant strategies that had led to success. Analysis of the participants’ narratives shed light on counselor educators’ awareness and understanding that being proactive and intentional in integrating approaches that connect to the student’s cultural identity, provide personalized support, and involve faculty appear to be successful strategies for recruiting, retaining, and supporting diverse students. These categories reflect a program’s commitment to and demonstration of diversity, with the necessity of intentional and active approaches indicated in literature (Evans & Cokley, 2008; Hipolito-Delgado et al., 2017; McCallum, 2016; Rogers & Molina, 2006). Commitment to diversity has been found to be a highly influential factor in applicants’ decisions to enter a doctoral program (Haizlip, 2012; Zeligman et al., 2015) and once enrolled, for students from URM backgrounds to feel a sense of inclusion, connection, and belonging (Henfield et al., 2013; Hollingsworth & Fassinger, 2002; Protivnak & Foss, 2009).

The literature has indicated that a program’s commitment and intentionality about increasing the diversity of both students and faculty has a direct impact on the number of applicants received by that program (Zeligman et al., 2015). Participant narratives from this study supported this strategy. Diverse students are drawn to programs that value their cultural background and the research interests that come with that identity. This might mean presence of diverse faculty and student body, being encouraged to express their uniqueness, and having faculty who share their research interests. The unique needs, values, and interests of diverse students require CES faculty to be mindful of providing personalized support during the recruitment process as well as during their enrollment in the program. These can be in the form of intentional mentoring, support in addressing possible skills deficits, having personalized conversations, and engaging in a buddy system. A third essential strategy is faculty involvement in multiculturalism and social justice issues, engagement in diverse areas of the profession, and advocating for students academically, professionally, and socioeconomically.

Implications for Counselor Education
     The findings from this study reveal the need for a change on the part of some CES doctoral programs in developing intentional and proactive efforts to recruit, support, and retain students from culturally diverse backgrounds. In this study, several participants noted that their doctoral program employed passive recruiting and retention strategies, which appeared to be inadequate and contrary to CACREP standards. Some participants also highlighted barriers to both recruiting and retaining diverse doctoral students, such as unclear standards and faculty attitudes and behaviors that include complacency, defensiveness and dismissiveness, lack of awareness, and assumptive thinking about diversity. Other CES departments seem to be partially implementing a comprehensive and systematic plan for recruiting and retaining diverse students. For example, they may utilize alumni networks to help with recruiting diverse students but lack a plan to support and retain enrolled students.

An important potential barrier for supporting diverse students in CES doctoral programs is the time required for faculty mentorship. Some participants in the study reported that some diverse students needed more close mentoring, and this time commitment would likely reduce available time for other faculty activities such as conducting research and writing for publication. For faculty on the tenure-track system in research institutions, losing time to research endeavors poses a potential threat to career advancement. One participant shared that while “by and large, most faculty want to mentor diverse students and put the time in,” this time commitment stood in opposition to their own tenure and promotion process. This participant elaborated that the pressure to “publish or perish” can “somewhat alter career trajectory for the faculty, if they spend too much time in mentoring.” This participant believed that this issue was “one of the real tensions here in academia” and explained that “either you want diversity, and you’re willing to reward people who are willing to invest themselves in the diversity . . . or you’re not. But you can’t have it both ways.” It appears that the current structure within universities, such as the criteria for tenure and promotion, can present a significant barrier to supporting diverse students. Prior authors have noted that established university and program culture can create a sense of marginalization for diverse students, making it difficult to both recruit and retain URM doctoral students (Holcomb-McCoy & Bradley, 2003; Zeligman et al., 2015). Faculty may need to advocate for structural changes within their universities to ensure that their students are adequately supported. Some participants in the study indicated that low teaching loads were another avenue of freeing up time for mentoring.

The CACREP standards (2015) contain a mandate for systematic and continuous efforts to retain a diversified student body in counselor education programs. Some participants noted in this study that the actual appraisal by CACREP site visit teams of how this standard was being met was unclear. Confusion about this standard may result in not having a strategy for ensuring that the standard was being met. Clarification and accountability are necessary to ensure that programs are meeting this standard.

It is crucial that counselor education programs continue to develop specific strategies to both recruit and retain underrepresented doctoral students. It is no longer acceptable to rest on the institutional name or location. Intentionality that addresses the needs of underrepresented students should include connection to students’ cultural identity, personalized support, and faculty involvement, as these will ensure that students feel wanted and valued throughout the entire process (recruitment to completion).


Although grounded theory provides a richness and depth to understanding questions for research, it comes with potential limitations. Clarke (2005) discussed limitations typical in qualitative research and grounded theory. Researchers are faced with an overwhelming amount of information to code, categorize, and analyze. Qualitative researchers can quite easily get bogged down with the complexity and amount of data, which can lead to a diluting of results (Clarke, 2005). The research team addressed this challenge by engaging in a two-step coding process: engaging in group coding of the first three transcripts and then dyadic coding of the remaining transcripts. Through saturation, the research team was able to establish categories that captured the main themes and ideas of the participant statements and check their own biases and values as potentially impacting the interpretation of the codes.

The research team was composed of members who themselves are from diverse backgrounds and who had experiences as doctoral students in CES programs. In addition, all members of the research team currently work in counselor training programs and wrestle with the same questions under review—namely, how to recruit, support, and retain diverse students. The research team attempted to address limitations through developing a priori codes potentially rooted in their own experiences and through recording memos during each group and individual coding session to capture the presence of personal values, biases, or experiences, as well as checking other team members’ codes. Although it is impossible to fully account for all potential biases present in a qualitative analysis, these efforts of diligently checking experiences aimed to mitigate this impact on the overall results and conclusions of the study.

Although the coding team believed that data reached saturation at 15 interviews, the sample was small (N = 15) for the method of inquiry according to Creswell and Poth (2018). Although we believe that limiting the number of respondents to no more than one faculty member per program was helpful in reducing the potential for bias due to group effect, it is possible that the faculty members surveyed were not the sole representations of their counselor education program. As with many qualitative studies, generalizability to the larger population is limited. However, it is noteworthy that the demographics of the participants in the current study do align with typical cultural representation of counselor education programs (CACREP, 2018).

Future quantitative studies are needed to evaluate the size of the effect of these strategies on recruitment and retention rates of diverse students in CES doctoral programs. For example, future studies could evaluate the relationship between student perceptions of proactive and intentional efforts toward connecting with cultural identity, personalized support, and faculty involvement with actual retention rates of diverse students in CES programs and their overall student satisfaction. Such information would be helpful to decipher which of these factors has the greatest impact on recruiting, retaining, and supporting diverse students in CES doctoral programs, which would be useful information for current CES doctoral programs.


This study highlights that although more efforts to recruit and retain students from diverse backgrounds are needed, when counselor education programs are intentional and proactive, it has a meaningful impact. What seems to be effective in recruiting, retaining, and supporting diverse students is developing a connection to cultural identity, support that is personalized, and faculty involvement. When students from diverse backgrounds feel some connection to their specific cultural identity and receive personalized support, they are more likely to enter a program and persist. Finally, the involvement of faculty at all levels of the recruitment and retention process is monumental. Students from diverse backgrounds perceive counselor education programs as inviting and able to meet their cultural needs when programming is intentional and proactive.


Conflict of Interest and Funding Disclosure
The authors reported no conflict of interest
or funding contributions for the development
of this manuscript.



Baker, C. A., & Moore, J. L., III. (2015). Experiences of underrepresented doctoral students in counselor education. Journal for Multicultural Education, 9(2), 68–84.

Barker, M. J. (2016). The doctorate in black and white: Exploring the engagement of Black doctoral students in cross race advising relationships with White faculty. Western Journal of Black Studies, 40(2), 126–140.

Behl, M., Laux, J. M., Roseman, C. P., Tiamiyu, M., & Spann, S. (2017). Needs and acculturative stress of international students in CACREP programs. Counselor Education and Supervision, 56(4), 305–318.

Blackwell, J. E. (1987). Mainstreaming outsiders: The production of Black professionals (2nd ed.). Rowman & Littlefield.

Blockett, R. A., Felder, P. P., Parrish, W., III, & Collier, J. N. (2016). Pathways to the professoriate: Exploring Black doctoral student socialization and the pipeline to the academic profession. The Western Journal of Black Studies, 40(2), 95–110.

Brown, E. M., & Grothaus, T. (2019). Experiences of cross-racial trust in mentoring relationships between Black doctoral counseling students and White counselor educators and supervisors. The Professional Counselor, 9(3), 211–225.

The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. (2019). Basic classification description. http://carn

Castellanos, J., Gloria, A. M., & Kamimura, M. (Eds.). (2006). The Latina/o pathways to the Ph.D.: Abriendo caminos. Stylus.

Chan, A. W., Yeh, C. J., & Krumboltz, J. D. (2015). Mentoring ethnic minority counseling and clinical psychology students: A multicultural, ecological, and relational model. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 62(4), 592–607.

Charmaz, K. (2014). Constructing grounded theory (2nd ed.). SAGE.

Chen, S. Y., Basma, D., Ju, J., & Ng, K.-M. (2020). Opportunities and challenges of multicultural and international online education. The Professional Counselor, 10(1), 120–132.

Clarke, A. E. (2005). Situational analysis: Grounded theory after the postmodern turn. SAGE.

Corbin, J., & Strauss, A. (2015). Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory (4th ed.). SAGE.

Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. (2014). CACREP vital statistics 2013: Results from a national survey of accredited programs.

Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. (2015). CACREP standards 2016.

Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. (2016). CACREP vital statistics 2015: Results from a national survey of accredited programs.

Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. (2018). CACREP vital statistics 2017: Results from a national survey of accredited programs.

Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. (2019). Annual report 2018.

Creswell, J. W., Hanson, W. E., Plano, V. L. C., & Morales, A. (2007). Qualitative research designs: Selection and implementation. The Counseling Psychologist, 35(2), 236–264.

Creswell, J. W., & Poth, C. N. (2018). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches (4th ed.). SAGE.

Definitions, 20 U.S.C. 20 § 1067k (2020). November 2, 2019.

Dieker, L., Wienke, W., Straub, C., & Finnegan, L. (2013). Reflections on recruiting, supporting, retaining, graduating, and obtaining employment for doctoral students from diverse backgrounds. Teacher Education and Special Education, 37(2), 147–160.

Evans, G. L., & Cokley, K. O. (2008). African American women and the academy: Using career mentoring to increase research productivity. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 2(1), 50–57.

Foxx, S. P., Kennedy, S. D., Dameron, M. L., & Bryant, A. (2018). A phenomenological exploration of diversity in counselor education. Journal of Professional Counseling: Practice, Theory & Research, 45(1), 17–32.

González, J. C. (2006). Academic socialization experiences of Latina doctoral students: A qualitative understanding of support systems that aid and challenges that hinder the process. Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, 5(4), 347–365.

Goodman, R. D., Williams, J. M., Chung, R. C.-Y., Talleyrand, R. M., Douglass, A. M., McMahon, H. G., & Bemak, F. (2015). Decolonizing traditional pedagogies and practices in counseling and psychology education: A move towards social justice and action. In R. D. Goodman & P. C. Gorski (Eds.), Decolonizing “multicultural” counseling through social justice (pp. 147–164). Springer.

Grapin, S. L., Bocanegra, J. O., Green, T. D., Lee, E. T., & Jaafar, D. (2016). Increasing diversity in school psychology: Uniting the efforts of institutions, faculty, students, and practitioners. Contemporary School Psychology, 20(4), 345–355.

Guillory, R. M. (2009). American Indian/Alaska Native college student retention strategies. Journal of Developmental Education, 33(2), 14–16, 18, 20, 22–23, 40.

Haizlip, B. N. (2012). Addressing the underrepresentation of African-Americans in counseling and psychology programs. College Student Journal, 46(1), 214–222.

Henfield, M. S., Owens, D., & Witherspoon, S. (2011). African American students in counselor education programs: Perceptions of their experiences. Counselor Education and Supervision, 50(4), 226–242.

Henfield, M. S., Woo, H., & Washington, A. (2013). A phenomenological investigation of African American counselor education students’ challenging experiences. Counselor Education and Supervision, 52(2), 122–136.

Hinojosa, T. J., & Carney, J. V. (2016). Mexican American women pursuing counselor education doctorates: A narrative inquiry. Counselor Education and Supervision, 55(3), 198–215.

Hipolito-Delgado, C. P., Estrada, D., & Garcia, M. (2017). Counselor education in technicolor: Recruiting graduate students of color. Interamerican Journal of Psychology, 51(1), 73–85.

Holcomb-McCoy, C., & Bradley, C. (2003). Recruitment and retention of ethnic minority counselor educators: An exploratory study of CACREP-accredited counseling programs. Counselor Education and Supervision, 42(3), 231–243.

Hollingsworth, M. A., & Fassinger, R. E. (2002). The role of faculty mentors in the research training of counseling psychology doctoral students. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 49(3), 324–330.

Interiano, C. G., & Lim, J. H. (2018). A “chameleonic” identity: Foreign-born doctoral students in U.S. counselor education. International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling, 40, 310–325.

Lerma, E., Zamarripa, M. X., Oliver, M., & Vela, J. C. (2015). Making our way through: Voices of Hispanic counselor educators. Counselor Education and Supervision, 54(3), 162–175.

Lewis, C. W., Ginsberg, R., Davies, T., & Smith, K. (2004). The experiences of African American Ph.D. students at a predominately White Carnegie I-research institution. College Student Journal, 38(2), 231–245.

Lincoln, Y. S., & Guba, E. G. (2013). The constructivist credo. Left Coast Press, Inc.

Luedke, C. L., Collom, G. D., McCoy, D. L., Lee-Johnson, J., & Winkle-Wagner, R. (2019). Connecting identity with research: Socializing students of color towards seeing themselves as scholars. The Review of Higher Education, 42(4), 1527–1547.

Marsella, A. J., & Pedersen, P. (2004). Internationalizing the counseling psychology curriculum: Toward new values, competencies, and directions. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 17(4), 413–423.

McCallum, C. M. (2015). Turning graduate school aspirations into enrollment: How student affairs professionals can help African American students. New York Journal of Student Affairs, 15(1), 1–18.

McCallum, C. M. (2016). “Mom made me do it”: The role of family in African Americans’ decisions to enroll in doctoral education. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 9(1), 50–63.

Merriam, S. B., & Tisdell, E. J. (2016). Qualitative research: A guide to design and implementation (4th ed.). Wiley.

Ng, K.-M. (2006). Counselor educators’ perceptions of and experiences with international students. International Journal for the Advancement of Counseling, 28(1), 1–19.

Ng, K.-M., & Smith, S. D. (2009). Perceptions and experiences of international trainees in counseling and related programs. International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling, 31, 57–70.

Patton, M. Q. (2014). Qualitative research and evaluation methods: Integrating theory and practice (4th ed.). SAGE.

Ponjuan, L. (2011). Recruiting and retaining Latino faculty members: The missing piece to Latino student success. Thought & Action, 99–110.

Ponterotto, J. G. (2005). Qualitative research in counseling psychology: A primer on research paradigms and philosophy of science. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 52(2), 126–136.

Preston, J., Trepal, T., Morgan, A., Jacques, J., Smith, J., & Field, T. (2020). Components of a high-quality doctoral program in counselor education and supervision. The Professional Counselor, 10(4), 453–471.

Proctor, S. L., & Romano, M. (2016). School psychology recruitment research characteristics and

implications for increasing racial and ethnic diversity. School Psychology Quarterly, 31(3), 311–326.

Protivnak, J. J., & Foss, L. L. (2009). An exploration of themes that influence the counselor education doctoral student experience. Counselor Education and Supervision, 48(4), 239–256.

Rogers, M. R., & Molina, L. E. (2006). Exemplary efforts in psychology to recruit and retain graduate students of color. American Psychologist, 61(2), 143–156.

Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1998). Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory (2nd ed.). SAGE.

Woo, H., Jang, Y. J., & Henfield, M. (2015). International doctoral students in counselor education: Coping strategies in supervision training. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 43(4), 288–304.

Zeligman, M., Prescod, D. J., & Greene, J. H. (2015). Journey toward becoming a counselor education doctoral student: Perspectives of women of color. The Journal of Negro Education, 84(1), 66–79.


The authors present this article in memory of Dr. Rose Merrell-James, who shared her knowledge, experience, strength, and wisdom with all of us through this scholarly work.

Jennie Ju, PhD, LPC, is an assistant professor at Palo Alto University. Rose Merrell-James was an assistant professor at Shippensburg University. J. Kelly Coker, PhD, MBA, NCC, BC-TMH, LCMHC, is a professor and program director at Palo Alto University. Michelle Ghoston, PhD, ACS, LPC(VA), LCMHC, is an assistant professor at Wake Forest University. Javier F. Casado Pérez, PhD, NCC, LPC, CCTP, is an assistant professor at Portland State University. Thomas A. Field, PhD, NCC, CCMHC, ACS, LPC, LMHC, is an assistant professor at the Boston University School of Medicine. Correspondence may be addressed to Jennie Ju, 1791 Arastradero Road, Palo Alto, CA 94304,


Appendix A

Interview Protocol

For context, please briefly describe how you self-identify and your background. This information will be aggregated; individual participant responses will not be associated with any quotes in subsequent manuscripts.
Sexual/Affective Orientation:
Race and Ethnicity:
Years as a Faculty Member in a Counselor Education Program:
Years as a Faculty Member in a Doctoral Counselor Education Program:
                  Number of Doctoral Counselor Education Programs You Have Worked In:
Regions of Doctoral Counselor Education Programs You’ve Worked In (using regions
commonly defined by national counselor education associations and organizations):

How might you define a “high-quality” doctoral program?

What do you believe to be the most important components? The least important?

How have you helped students to successfully navigate the dissertation process?

Which strategies has your program used to recruit underrepresented students from diverse
backgrounds? How successful were those?

Which strategies has your program used to support and retain underrepresented students from diverse
backgrounds? How successful were those?

What guidance might you provide to faculty who want to start a new doctoral program in counseling
with regards to working with administrators and gaining buy-in?

What guidance might you provide to faculty who want to sustain an existing doctoral program in
counseling with regards to working with administrators and gaining ongoing support?

Last question. What other pieces of information would you like to share about running a successful,
high-quality doctoral program?

Factors Influencing Undergraduate Student Retention in STEM Majors: Career Development, Math Ability, and Demographics

Christopher T. Belser, M. Ann Shillingford, Andrew P. Daire, Diandra J. Prescod, Melissa A. Dagley

The United States is facing a crisis with respect to filling job vacancies within science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) industries and with students completing STEM undergraduate degrees. In addition, disparities exist for females and ethnic minorities within STEM fields. Whereas prior research has centered on disparities in STEM fields, retention rates, and some intervention programs, researchers have not given much attention to the role of career development initiatives within STEM recruitment and retention programming. The purpose of the present study was to incorporate demographic variables, math performance, and career development–related factors into predictive models of STEM retention with a sample of undergraduate students within a STEM recruitment and retention program. The resulting two models accurately predicted first-year to second-year retention with 73.4% of the cases and accurately predicted first-year to third-year retention with 70.0% of the cases. Based on the results, the researchers provide a rationale for STEM career programming in K–12 and higher education settings and for the inclusion of career development and career counseling in STEM education programming.

Keywords: STEM, retention, career development, career counseling, undergraduate student


The United States lacks an adequate number of workers to keep up with the demand for trained workers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields (National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics [NCSES], 2017; National Science Board, 2018; Sithole et al., 2017). Researchers have pointed to the overall stagnancy of undergraduate students declaring and completing STEM degrees (Carnevale, Smith, & Melton, 2011; Doerschuk et al., 2016; Sithole et al., 2017). Additionally, underrepresentation is a problem for racial and ethnic minorities and females in STEM fields (NCSES, 2017). Because of these disparities, universities have developed programs centered on recruitment and retention of STEM undergraduates (Bouwma-Gearhart, Perry, & Presley, 2014; Dagley et al., 2016; Schneider, Bickel, & Morrison-Shetlar, 2015) and both government and private entities invest billions of dollars annually toward STEM initiatives at the K–12 and higher education levels (Carnevale et al., 2011). However, many of these endeavors have failed to incorporate components centered on career development or career planning.

The National Career Development Association (2015) defined career development as “the sequence of career-related choices and transitions made over the life span” (p. 4) and career planning as a structured process through which a person makes decisions and plans for a future career. Career development activities, such as structured career planning courses, have shown efficacy with general undergraduate populations (Osborn, Howard, & Leierer, 2007; Reardon, Melvin, McClain, Peterson, & Bowman, 2015) but have been studied less commonly with STEM-specific undergraduate populations (Belser, Prescod, Daire, Dagley, & Young, 2017, 2018; Prescod, Daire, Young, Dagley, & Georgiopoulos, in press). In the present study, researchers examined a STEM recruitment and retention program that did include a career planning course. More specifically, the research team sought to investigate relationships between demographics (e.g., gender, ethnicity), math scores, and various aspects of the undergraduate STEM program and student retention in the first 2 years of college.

Gender, Ethnicity, and STEM

Gender disparities are a common sight within STEM degree programs and the larger STEM workforce (NCSES, 2017). Females who are interested in math and science are more likely to be tracked into non-diagnosing health practitioner fields, such as nursing (ACT, 2018; NCSES, 2017). Some researchers have pointed to the K–12 arena as the root of these gender disparities that permeate undergraduate programs and STEM professions (Mansfield, Welton, & Grogan, 2014), whereas others have identified specific problems, such as differences in math and science course completion over time (Chen & Soldner, 2013; Riegle-Crumb, King, Grodsky, & Muller, 2012), stereotype threat (Beasley & Fischer, 2012), and STEM confidence (Litzler, Samuelson, & Lorah, 2014). As a result, existing predictive models typically indicate a lower likelihood of females completing a STEM degree compared to male students (Cundiff, Vescio, Loken, & Lo, 2013; Gayles & Ampaw, 2014).

Similarly, disparities in STEM degree completion and STEM job attainment exist between ethnic groups (NCSES, 2017; Palmer, Maramba, & Dancy, 2011). Although progress has been made in degree attainment in certain STEM areas, other areas have stagnated or are declining in participation by ethnic minority students (Chen & Soldner, 2013; NCSES, 2017). Foltz, Gannon, and Kirschmann (2014) identified protective factors for minority students in STEM, such as receiving college-going expectations from home, establishing connections with STEM faculty members (particularly those of color), and developing connections with other minority students in STEM majors; however, the disparities in STEM programs help perpetuate a cycle of many students not being exposed to these protective factors. The intersectionality of ethnicity and gender in STEM fields has become a topic producing interesting findings (Riegle-Crumb & King, 2010). In addition to observing disparities across ethnic groups, researchers have observed disparities within ethnic groups based on gender (Beasley & Fischer, 2012; Cundiff et al., 2013; Riegle-Crumb & King, 2010). Specifically with males of color, predictive models have been inconclusive, with some showing a higher likelihood of completing a STEM degree (Riegle-Crumb & King, 2010) and others showing a lower likelihood (Cundiff et al., 2013; Gayles & Ampaw, 2014).

Mathematics and STEM

The SAT is one of the most widely used college admissions tests (CollegeBoard, 2018). Researchers have correlated the math sub-score with undergraduate math and science classes within the first year, indicating that higher SAT math scores indicate a higher probability of higher course grades in math and science courses (Wyatt, Remigio, & Camara, 2012). Additionally, researchers have identified SAT scores as predictors of academic success and university retention (Crisp, Nora, & Taggart, 2009; Le, Robbins, & Westrick, 2014; Mattern & Patterson, 2013; Rohr, 2012). Despite its wide use in higher education admissions, the SAT may not be free from bias. Numerous scholars have highlighted potential test bias, particularly against ethnic minorities (Dixon-Román, Everson, & McArdle, 2013; Lawlor, Richman, & Richman, 1997; Toldson & McGee, 2014). Nevertheless, its wide use makes it a prime instrument for research.

In addition to the SAT scores, researchers also have demonstrated that taking higher-level math courses and having higher math self-efficacy translate to better outcomes within STEM majors (Carnevale et al., 2011; Chen & Soldner, 2013; Nosek & Smyth, 2011). Specifically, taking calculus-based courses in high school correlated with retention in STEM majors (Chen & Soldner, 2013). Nosek and Smyth (2011) found connections between gender and internalized math variables, such as warmth for math, identification with math, and self-efficacy; females across the life span showed lower levels of each of these variables, but the authors did not test these against retention outcomes in STEM majors. However, one could hypothesize that having lower levels of warmth toward math and not being able to identify with math would likely impact one’s career decisions, particularly related to math and science fields.

Career Interventions and STEM

Career theory can provide for understanding one’s interest in STEM fields (Holland, 1973), one’s exposure to STEM fields (Gottfredson, 1981), and one’s beliefs or expectations about the process of choosing a STEM field (Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 2002; Peterson, Sampson, Lenz, & Reardon, 2002). However, career interventions, such as a career planning class, are more likely to make a direct impact on career outcomes with undergraduates. In one review of research on undergraduate career planning courses, more than 90% of the courses produced some measurable positive result for students, such as increased likelihood of completing a major, decreased negative career thinking, and increased career self-efficacy (Reardon & Fiore, 2014). Other researchers have reported similar results with generic undergraduate career planning courses (Osborn et al., 2007; Saunders, Peterson, Sampson, & Reardon, 2000).

Researchers have studied structured career planning courses specific to STEM majors with much less frequency. In one such study, Prescod and colleagues (in press) found that students who took a STEM-focused career planning course scored lower on a measure of negative career thinking at the end of the semester. In a similar study, STEM-interested students in a STEM-focused career planning course had lower posttest scores on a measure of negative career thinking than declared STEM majors at the end of the same semester (Belser et al., 2018). Additionally, in a pilot study, Belser and colleagues (2017) found that greater reductions in negative career thinking predicted higher odds of being retained in a STEM major from the first to second year of college; in this same study, the authors found that students who participated in a STEM-focused career planning course were more likely to be retained in a STEM major than students in an alternative STEM course. Researchers have not given ample attention to determining how career planning and other career variables fit into predictive models of retention in STEM majors.

Statement of the Problem and Hypotheses

As previously noted, prior researchers have paid limited attention to developing predictive models that incorporate career development variables along with demographics and math performance. Developing effective predictive models has implications for researchers, career practitioners, higher education professionals, and the STEM workforce. To this end, the researchers intend to test two such models related to retention in STEM majors using the following hypotheses:

Hypothesis 1: First-year to second-year undergraduate retention in STEM majors can be predicted by ethnicity, gender, initial major, math placement–algebra scores, SAT math scores, STEM course participation, and Career Thoughts Inventory (CTI) change scores.

Hypothesis 2: First-year to third-year undergraduate retention in STEM majors can be predicted by ethnicity, gender, initial major, math placement–algebra scores, SAT math scores, STEM course participation, and CTI change scores.


In this study, researchers examined multi-year retention data for students in a STEM recruitment and retention program at a large research university in the Southeastern United States and utilized a quasi-experimental design with non-equivalent comparison groups (Campbell & Stanley, 1963; Gall, Gall, & Borg, 2007). Because this study was part of a larger research project, Institutional Review Board approval was already in place.

The COMPASS Program

The COMPASS Program (Convincing Outstanding Math-Potential Admits to Succeed in STEM; Dagley et al., 2016) is a National Science Foundation–funded project that seeks to recruit and retain undergraduate students in STEM majors. To enter the program, students must have a minimum SAT math score of 550, an undeclared major at the time of applying to the university and program, and an expressed interest in potentially pursuing a STEM degree. However, some students accepted to the COMPASS Program declare a STEM major between the time that they are accepted into the COMPASS Program and the first day of class, creating a second track of students who were initially uncommitted to a major at the time of application. Students in both tracks have access to math and science tutoring in a program-specific center on campus, are matched with undergraduate mentors from STEM majors, have access to cohort math classes for students within the program, and can choose to live in a residence hall area designated for COMPASS participants. Depending on which COMPASS track students are in, they either take a STEM-focused career planning course or a STEM seminar course during their first semester.

COMPASS participants who started college without a declared major take a STEM-focused career planning class in their first semester. The activities of this course include a battery of career assessments and opportunities to hear career presentations from STEM professionals, visit STEM research labs, and attend structured career planning activities (e.g., developing a career action plan, résumé and cover letter writing, small group discussions). The first author and fourth author served as instructors for this course, and both were counselor education doctoral students at the time.

Participants who had declared a STEM major between the time they were accepted into the COMPASS Program and the first day of class took a STEM seminar course instead of the career planning class. The structure of this course included activities designed to help students engage with and be successful in their selected STEM majors, including presentations on learning styles and strategies, time management, study skills, professional experiences appropriate for STEM majors, and strategies for engaging in undergraduate research. Guest speakers for the class focused more on providing students with information about how to be successful as a STEM student. The course did not include career planning or career decision-making activities specifically geared toward helping students decide on a major or career field. A science education doctoral student served as the instructor of record for the course, with graduate students from various STEM fields serving as teaching assistants.


The university’s Institutional Knowledge Management Office provided demographic data on program participants. Table 1 displays descriptive data for participants, organized by second-year retention data (i.e., retention from the first year of college to the second year of college, for Hypothesis 1) and third-year retention data (i.e., retention from the first year of college to the third year of college, for Hypothesis 2). The frequencies for the subcategories were smaller for the third-year retention data (Hypothesis 2) because fewer participants had matriculated this far during the life of the project. Table 1 also breaks down each subset of the data based on which students were retained in a STEM major and which were not retained.


Table 1

Descriptive Statistics for Categorical Variables

Second-Year Retention Descriptives Third-Year Retention Descriptives
Variables Retained Not Retained Total Retained Not Retained Total
n %a n %b n %c n %a n %b n %c
   Male 159   58.9   74   46.5 233   54.3   72   55.8   65   44.8 137   50.0
   Female 111   41.1   85   53.5 196   45.7   57   44.2   80   55.2 137   50.0
   Total 270 100.0 159 100.0 429 100.0 129 100.0 145 100.0 274 100.0
   Caucasian/White 147   54.4 100   62.9 247   57.6   66   51.2   85   58.6 151   55.1
   African Am./Black   31   11.5   16   10.1   47   11.0   16   12.4   18   12.4   34   12.4
   Hispanic   57   21.1   34   21.4   91   21.2   29   22.5   32   22.1   61   22.3
   Asian/Pacific Islander   24     8.9     4     2.5   28     6.5   10     7.8     5     3.4   15     5.5
   Other   11     4.1     5     3.1   16     3.7     8     6.2     5     3.4   13     4.7
   Total 270 100.0 159 100.0 429 100.0 129 100.0 145 100.0 274 100.0
   Career Planning 137   50.7 120   75.5 257   59.9   76   58.9 112   77.2 188   68.6
   STEM Seminar 133   49.3   39   24.5 172   40.1   53   41.1   33   22.8   86   31.4
   Total 270 100.0 159 100.0 429 100.0 129 100.0 145 100.0 274 100.0
Initial Major
   Undeclared 130   48.1   72   45.3 202   47.1   65   50.4   63   43.4 128   46.7
   STEM 124   45.9   40   25.2 164   38.2   55   42.6   39   26.9   94   34.3
   Non-STEM   16     5.9   47   29.6   63   14.7     9     7.0   43   29.7   52   19.0
   Total 270 100.0 159 100.0 429 100.0 129 100.0 145 100.0 274 100.0

Note. a = percentage of the Retained group. b = percentage of the Not Retained group. c = percentage of the Total group.


Gender representation within the two samples was split relatively evenly, with female participants represented at a higher rate in the sample than in the larger population of STEM undergraduates and at a higher rate than STEM professionals in the workforce. Both samples were predominantly Caucasian/White, with no other ethnic group making up more than one-fourth of either sample individually; these ethnicity breakdowns were reflective of the university’s undergraduate population and somewhat reflective of STEM disciplines. The students who took the STEM-focused career planning course accounted for a larger percentage of both total samples and also of the not-retained groups. Regarding initial major, the largest percentage of students fell within the initially undeclared category, with the next largest group being the initially STEM-declared group (these students officially declared a STEM major but were uncommitted with their decision).

The researchers conducted an a priori power analysis using G*Power 3 (Cohen, 1992; Faul, Erdfelder, Lang, & Buchner, 2007), and the overall samples of 429 and 271 were sufficient for the binary logistic regression. With logistic regression, the ratio of cases in each of the dependent outcomes (retained or not retained) to the number of independent variable predictors must be sufficient (Agresti, 2013; Hosmer, Lemeshow, & Sturdivant, 2013; Tabachnick & Fidell, 2013). Following Peduzzi, Concato, Kemper, Holford, and Feinstein’s (1996) rule of 10 cases per outcome per predictor, the samples were sufficient for all independent variables except ethnicity, which had multiple categories with fewer than 10 cases. However, Field (2009) and Vittinghoff and McCulloch (2006) recommended having a minimum of five cases per outcome per predictor, which the sample achieved for all independent variables.

Variables and Instruments

The analysis included 10 independent variables within the logistic regression models. The university’s Institutional Knowledge Management Office (IKMO) provided data for the four categorical variables displayed in Table 1 (gender, ethnicity, course, and initial major). Four of the independent variables represented the participants’ total and subscale scores on the CTI, which students completed in either the career planning course or the STEM seminar course. The other two independent variables were participants’ scores on the SAT math subtest and the university’s Math Placement Test–Algebra subscale; the IKMO provided these data as well.

Career Thoughts Inventory (CTI). The CTI includes 48 Likert-type items and seeks to measure respondents’ levels of negative career thinking (Sampson, Peterson, Lenz, Reardon, & Saunders, 1996a, 1996b). To complete the CTI, respondents read the 48 statements about careers and indicate how much they agree using a 4-point scale (strongly disagree to strongly agree). The CTI provides a total score and scores for three subscales: (a) Decision Making Confusion (DMC); (b) Commitment Anxiety (CA); and (c) External Conflict (EC). Completing the instrument yields raw scores for the assessment total and each of the three subscales, and a conversion table printed on the test booklet allows respondents to convert raw scores to T scores. Higher raw scores and T scores indicate a higher level of problematic thinking in each respective area, with T scores at or above 50 indicating clinical significance. For the college student norm group, internal consistency alpha coefficients were .96 for the total score and ranged from .77 to .94 for the three subscales (Sampson et al., 1996a, 1996b). With the sample in the present study, the researchers found acceptable alpha coefficients that were comparable to the norm group. The researchers used CTI change scores as predictors, calculated as the change in CTI total and subscale scores from the beginning to the end of either the career planning class or the STEM seminar class.

SAT Math. High school students take the SAT as a college admissions test typically in their junior and/or senior years (CollegeBoard, 2018). Although the SAT has four subtests, the researchers only used the math subtest in the present study. The math subtest is comprised of 54 questions or tasks in the areas of basic mathematics knowledge, advanced mathematics knowledge, managing complexity, and modeling and insight (CollegeBoard, 2018; Ewing, Huff, Andrews, & King, 2005). In a validation study of the SAT, Ewing et al. (2005) found an internal consistency alpha coefficient of .92 for the math subtest and alpha coefficients ranging from .68 to .81 for the four math skill areas. The researchers were unable to analyze psychometric properties of the SAT math test with the study sample because the university’s IKMO only provided composite and subtest total scores, rather than individual item responses.

Math Placement Test–Algebra Subtest. The Math Placement Test is a university-made assessment designed to measure mathematic competence in algebra, trigonometry, and pre-calculus that helps the university place students in their first math course at the university. All first-time undergraduate students at the university are required to take the test; when data collection began, the mandatory completion policy was not yet in place, so some earlier participants had missing data in this area. The test is structured so that all respondents first take the algebra subtest and if they achieve 70% accuracy, they move to the trigonometry and pre-calculus subtests. Similar to the SAT, the researchers were unable to analyze psychometric properties of the test because the IKMO provided only composite and subtest total scores.


Because the dependent variables (second-year retention and third-year retention) were dichotomous (i.e., retained or not retained), the researchers used the binary logistic regression procedure within SPSS Version 24 to analyze the data (Agresti, 2013; Hosmer et al., 2013; Tabachnick & Fidell, 2013). The purpose of binary logistic regression is to test predictors of the binary outcome by comparing the observed outcomes and the predicted outcomes first without any predictors and then with the chosen predictors (Hosmer et al., 2013). The researchers used a backward stepwise Wald approach, which enters all predictors into the model and removes the least significant predictors one by one until all of the remaining predictors fall within a specific p value range (Tabachnick & Fidell, 2013). The researchers chose to set the range as p ≤ .20 based on the recommendation of Hosmer et al. (2013).

Preliminary data analysis included identifying both univariate and multivariate outliers, which were removed from the data file; conducting a missing data analysis; and testing the statistical assumptions for logistic regression. There were no missing values for categorical variables, but the assessment variables (CTI, SAT, and Math Placement Test) did have missing values. Results from Little’s (1988) MCAR test in SPSS showed that these data were not missing completely at random (Chi-square = 839.606, df = 161, p < .001). The researchers chose to impute missing values using the Expectation Maximization procedure in SPSS (Dempster, Laird, & Rubin, 1977; Little & Rubin, 2002). The data met the statistical assumptions of binary logistic regression related to multicollinearity and linearity in the logit (Tabachnick & Fidell, 2013). As previously discussed, the data also sufficiently met the assumption regarding the ratio of cases to predictor variables, with the exception of the ethnicity variable; after removing outliers, the Asian/Pacific Islander subcategory in the non-retained outcome had only four cases, violating the Peduzzi et al. (1996) and Field (2009) recommendation of having at least five cases. However, because the goal was to test the ethnicity categories separately rather than collapsing them to fit the recommendation, and because Hosmer et al. (2013) noted this was a recommendation and not a rule, the researchers chose to keep the existing categories, noting the potential limitation when interpreting this variable.

The sections that follow provide the results from each of the hypotheses and interpretation of the findings.

Hypothesis 1

Hypothesis 1 stated that the independent variables could predict undergraduate STEM retention from Year 1 to Year 2. As stated previously, the backward stepwise Wald approach involved including all predictors initially and then removing predictors one by one based on p value until all remaining predictors fell within the p ≤ .20 range. This process took five steps, resulting in the removal of four variables with p values greater than .20: (a) CTI Commitment Anxiety Change, (b) CTI External Conflict Change, (c) Gender, and (d) CTI Decision Making Confusion Change, respectively. The model yielded a Chi-square value of 91.011 (df = 10, p < .001), a -2 Log likelihood of 453.488, a Cox and Snell R-square value of .198, and a Nagelkerke R-square value of .270. These R-square values indicate that the model can explain between approximately 20% and 27% of the variance in the outcome. The model had a good fit with the data, as evidenced by the Hosmer and Lemeshow Goodness of Fit Test (Chi-square = 6.273, df = 8, p = .617). The final model accurately predicted 73.4% of cases across groups; however, the model predicted the retained students more accurately (89.6% of cases) than the non-retained cases (45.8% of cases).

Table 2 explains how each of the six variables retained in the model contributed to the final model. The odds ratio represents an association between a particular independent variable and a particular outcome, or for this study, the extent that the independent variables predict membership in the retained outcome group. With categorical variables, this odds ratio represents the likelihood that being in a category increases the odds of being in the retained group over the reference category (i.e., African American/Black participants were 1.779 times more likely to be in the retained group than White/Caucasian students, who served as the reference category). With continuous variables, odds ratios represent the likelihood that quantifiable changes in the independent variables predict membership in the retained group (i.e., for every unit increase in SAT math score, the odds of being in the retained group increase 1.004 times). The interpretation of odds ratios allows them to be viewed as a measure of effect size, with odds ratios closer to 1.0 having a smaller effect (Tabachnick & Fidell, 2013).


Table 2

Variables in the Equation for Hypothesis 1

95% C.I. for O.R.
Variable B S.E. Wald O.R. Lower Upper
Ethnicity 10.319*
Ethnicity (African American/Black) .576 .393    2.148 1.779 .823 3.842
Ethnicity (Hispanic) .068 .290     .054 1.070 .606 1.889
Ethnicity (Asian/Pacific Islander) 1.889 .637 8.803** 6.615 1.899 23.041
Ethnicity (Other) .258 .714 .131 1.295 .320 5.246
Initial Major  35.824***
Initial Major (Declared STEM) .412 .265 2.422 1.511 .899 2.539
Initial Major (Declared Non-STEM) -1.944 .375 26.905*** .143 .069 .298
STEM Seminar (Non-CP) .850 .258 10.885** 2.340 1.412 3.879
SAT Math .004 .002 2.411 1.004 .999 1.008
Math Placement–Algebra .002 .002 2.080 1.002 .999 1.005
CTI Total Change .017 .007 5.546* 1.017 1.003 1.032
Constant -2.994 1.378 4.717 .050

 Note: B = Coefficient for the Constant; S.E. = Standard Error; O.R. = Odds Ratio; * p < .05; ** p < .01; *** p < .001.


With logistic regression, the Wald Chi-square test allows the researcher to determine a coefficient’s significance to the model (Tabachnick & Fidell, 2013). Based on this test, Initial Major was the most significant predictor to the model (p < .001). Students in the initially Declared STEM category were 1.511 times more likely to be in the retained group than those in the initially Undeclared category (the reference category); the odds of being in the retained group decreased by a factor of .143 for students in the initially Declared Non-STEM group. The STEM course was the predictor with the second most statistical significance (p < .01), with students in the STEM seminar class being 2.340 times more likely to be in the retained outcome than those in the career planning class. The CTI Total Change score was statistically significant (p < .05), indicating that for every unit increase in CTI Total Change score (i.e., the larger the decrease in score from pretest to posttest), the odds of being in the retained group increase by a factor of 1.017. Ethnicity was a statistically significant predictor (p < .05), with each subcategory having higher odds of being in the retained group than the White/Caucasian group; however, the researchers caution the reader to read these odds ratios for ethnicity with caution because of the number of cases in some categories. SAT Math and Math Placement–Algebra were not statistically significant, but still fell within the recommended inclusion range (p < .20).

Hypothesis 2

Hypothesis 2 stated that the independent variables could predict undergraduate STEM retention from Year 1 to Year 3. As stated previously, the backward stepwise Wald approach involved including all predictors initially and then removing predictors one by one based on p value until all remaining predictors fell within the p ≤ .20 range. This process took six steps, resulting in the removal of five variables with p values greater than .20: (a) CTI Commitment Anxiety Change, (b) CTI Decision Making Confusion Change, (c) Gender, (d) CTI External Conflict Change, and (e) CTI Total Change, respectively. The model yielded a Chi-square value of 55.835 (df = 9, p < .001), a -2 Log likelihood of 307.904, a Cox and Snell R-square value of .191, and a Nagelkerke R-square value of .255. These R-square values indicate that the model can explain between approximately 19% and 26% of the variance in the outcome. The model had a good fit with the data, as evidenced by the Hosmer and Lemeshow Goodness of Fit Test (Chi-square = 9.187, df = 8, p = .327). The model accurately predicted 70.0% of cases across groups. In this analysis, the model predicted the non-retained students more accurately (72.7% of cases) than the retained cases (66.9% of cases).

Table 3 explains how the variables within the model contributed to the final model. Based on the Wald test, Initial Major was the most significant predictor to the model (p < .001). Students in the initially Declared STEM category were 1.25 times more likely to be in the retained group than those in the initially Undeclared category (the reference category); the odds of being in the retained group decreased by a factor of .167 for students in the initially Declared Non-STEM group. The Math Placement–Algebra variable was statistically significant (p < .05), and the odds ratios indicated that for every unit increase in Math Placement–Algebra test score, the odds of being in the retained group are 1.005 higher. The STEM course variable was slightly outside the statistically significant range but fell within the inclusion range, with students in the STEM seminar class being 2.340 times more likely to be in the retained outcome than students in the career planning class. SAT Math was not statistically significant but still fell within the recommended inclusion range (p < .20). Ethnicity also was not a statistically significant predictor but fell within the inclusion range, with each subcategory having higher odds of being in the retained group than the White/Caucasian group; however, the researchers caution the reader to read these odds ratios for ethnicity with caution because of the number of cases in some categories.


Table 3

Variables in the Equation for Hypothesis 2

95% C.I. for O.R.
Variable B S.E. Wald O.R. Lower Upper
Ethnicity 6.445
Ethnicity (African American/Black) .542 .448 1.467 1.719 .715 4.134
Ethnicity (Hispanic) .243 .349 .484 1.275 .643 2.528
Ethnicity (Asian/Pacific Islander) 1.636 .698 5.494* 5.137 1.307 20.185
Ethnicity (Other) .403 .684 .347 1.497 .391 5.725
Initial Major 17.362**
Initial Major (Declared STEM) .223 .328 .460 1.250 .656 2.379
Initial Major (Declared non-STEM) -1.792 .468 14.664** .167 .067 .417
STEM Seminar (Non-CP) .588 .323 3.327 1.801 .957 3.389
SAT Math .004 .003 2.536 1.004 .999 1.010
Math Placement–Algebra .005 .002 5.449* 1.005 1.001 1.009
Constant -2.994 1.378 4.717 .050

Note: B = Coefficient for the Constant; S.E. = Standard Error; O.R. = Odds Ratio; * p < .05; *** p < .001.



The researchers sought to determine the degree to which a set of demographic variables, math scores, and career-related factors could predict undergraduate retention in STEM majors. Based on descriptive statistics, the participants are remaining in STEM majors at a higher rate than other nationwide samples (Chen & Soldner, 2013; Koenig, Schen, Edwards, & Bao, 2012). The sample

in this study was quite different based on gender than what is commonly cited in the literature; approximately 46% of the study’s sample was female, whereas the NCSES (2017) reported that white females made up approximately 31% of those in STEM fields, with minority females lagging significantly behind. The present study’s sample was more in line with national statistics with regard to ethnicity (NCSES, 2017; Palmer et al., 2011).

With Hypothesis 1, the researchers sought to improve on a pilot study (Belser et al., 2017) that did not include demographics or math-related variables. Adding these additional variables did improve the overall model fit and the accuracy of predicting non-retained students, but slightly decreased the accuracy of predicting retained students, as compared to the Belser et al. (2017) model. In addition to improving the model fit, adding in additional variables reversed the claim by Belser et al. (2017) that students in the STEM-focused career planning class were more likely to be retained than the STEM seminar students. In the present study, the STEM seminar students, who declared STEM majors prior to the first day of college, were more likely to be retained in STEM majors, which is in line with prior research connecting intended persistence in a STEM major to observed retention (Le et al., 2014; Lent et al., 2016).

With Hypothesis 2, the researchers sought to expand on the Belser et al. (2017) study by also predicting retention one year farther, into the third year of college. In this endeavor, the analysis yielded a model that still fit the data well. However, this model was much more accurate in predicting the non-retained students and was slightly less accurate in predicting the retained students, with the overall percentage of correct predictions similar to Hypothesis 1. This finding indicates that the included predictors may provide a more balanced ability to predict long-term retention in STEM majors than in just the first year. The initial major and STEM course variables performed similarly as in Hypothesis 1, and as such, similarly to prior research (Le et al., 2014; Lent et al., 2016).

Although sampling issues warrant the reader to read ethnicity results with caution, ethnicity did show to be a good predictor of retention in STEM majors with both Hypotheses 1 and 2. More noteworthy, the African American/Black and Hispanic students had higher odds of being retained. This is inconsistent with most research that shows underrepresented minorities as less likely to be retained in STEM majors (Chen & Soldner, 2013; Cundiff et al., 2013; Gayles & Ampaw, 2014); however, at least one study has previously found results in which ethnic minority students were more likely to be retained in STEM majors (Riegle-Crumb & King, 2010).

Gender was removed as a predictor from both models because of its statistical non-significance. Prior research has shown that females are less likely to be retained in STEM majors (Cundiff et al., 2013; Gayles & Ampaw, 2014; Riegle-Crumb et al., 2012), which separates this sample from prior studies. However, the COMPASS sample did have a larger representation of females than typically observed. Moreover, the COMPASS Program has been mindful of prior research related to gender and took steps to address gender concerns in program development (Dagley et al., 2016).

The continuous variables retained in the models showed only a mild effect on predicting STEM retention. The SAT Math and Math Placement–Algebra scores did perform consistently with prior research, in which higher math scores related to higher odds of retention (CollegeBoard, 2012; Crisp et al., 2009; Le et al., 2014; Mattern & Patterson, 2013; Rohr, 2012). The CTI variables that were retained in the models performed in line with the Belser et al. (2017) pilot study specific to STEM majors and with prior research examining negative career thoughts in undergraduate retention in other majors (Folsom, Peterson, Reardon, & Mann, 2005; Reardon et al., 2015).


Limitations and Implications

The present study has limitations, particularly with regard to research design, sampling, and instrumentation. First, the researchers used a comparison group design rather than a control group, and as such, there were certain observable differences between the two groups. Not having a control group limits the researchers’ ability to make causal claims regarding the predictor variables or the STEM career intervention. The researchers also only included a limited number of predictors; the inclusion of additional variables may have strengthened the models. Although the sample size was sufficient based on the a priori power analysis, the low number of participants in some of the categories may have resulted in overfitting or underfitting within the models. Finally, the researchers were not able to test psychometric properties of the SAT Math subtest or the Math Placement–Algebra subtest with this sample because of not having access to the participants’ item responses for each. The researchers attempted to mitigate limitations as much as possible and acknowledge that they can and should be improved upon in future research.

Future research in this area would benefit from the inclusion of a wider variety of predictor variables, such as math and science self-efficacy, outcome expectations, and internal processes observed with gender and ethnic minority groups (e.g., stereotype threat; Cundiff et al., 2013; Litzler et al., 2014). The researchers also recommend obtaining a larger representation of ethnic minority groups to ensure an adequate number of cases to effectively run the statistical procedure. Future researchers should consider more complex statistical procedures (e.g., structural equation modeling) and research designs (e.g., randomized control trials) to determine more causal relationships between predictors and the outcome variables.

Because the results of this study indicate that a more solidified major selection is associated with higher odds of retention in STEM majors, university career professionals and higher education professionals should strive to develop programming that helps students decide on a major earlier in their undergraduate careers. Structured career development work, often overlooked in undergraduate STEM programming, may be one such appropriate strategy. Additionally, any undergraduate STEM programming must be sensitive to demographic underrepresentation in STEM majors and the STEM workforce and should take steps to provide support for students in these underrepresented groups.

Similar to work with undergraduates, this study’s results provide a rationale for school counselors to engage students in STEM career work so that they can move toward a solidified STEM major prior to enrolling in college. The industry-specific career development work discussed within this study is just as important, if not more important, for students in K–12 settings. Moreover, school counselors, through their continued access to students, can serve as an access point for researchers to learn more about the STEM career development process at an earlier stage of the STEM pipeline. All of these endeavors point to the need for counselor educators to better prepare school counselors, college counselors, and career counselors to do work specifically with STEM and to become more involved in STEM career research.

In the present study, the researchers built upon prior research in the area of STEM retention to determine which variables can act as predictors of undergraduate STEM retention. The binary logistic regression procedure yielded two models that provide insight on how these variables operate individually and within the larger model. Finally, the researchers identified some key implications for counselors practicing in various settings and for researchers who are interested in answering some of the key questions that still exist with regard to STEM career development and retention.


Conflict of Interest and Funding Disclosure

Data collected in this study was part of a dissertation study by the first author. The dissertation was awarded the 2018 Dissertation Excellence Award by the National Board for Certified Counselors.



ACT. (2018). The condition of STEM 2017. Retrieved from

Agresti, A. (2013). Categorical data analysis (3rd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Beasley, M. A., & Fischer, M. J. (2012). Why they leave: The impact of stereotype threat on the attrition of women and minorities from science, math, and engineering majors. Social Psychology of Education, 15, 427–448. doi:10.1007/s11218-012-9185-3

Belser, C. T., Prescod, D. J., Daire, A. P., Dagley, M. A., & Young, C. Y. (2017). Predicting undergraduate student retention in STEM majors based on career development factors. The Career Development Quarterly, 65, 88–93. doi:10.1002/cdq.12082

Belser, C. T., Prescod, D. J., Daire, A. P., Dagley, M. A., & Young, C. Y. (2018). The influence of career planning on career thoughts in STEM-interested undergraduates. The Career Development Quarterly, 66(2), 176–181. doi:10.1002/cdq.12131

Bouwma-Gearhart, J., Perry, K. H., & Presley, J. B. (2014). Improving postsecondary STEM education: Strategies for successful interdisciplinary collaborations and brokering engagement with education research and theory. Journal of College Science Teaching, 44, 40–47.

Campbell, D. T., & Stanley, J. C. (1963). Experimental and quasi-experimental designs for research. Chicago, IL: Rand McNally.

Carnevale, A. P., Smith, N., & Melton, M. (2011). STEM: Science, technology, engineering, mathematics. Washington, DC: Georgetown University.

Chen, X., & Soldner, M. (2013). STEM attrition: College students’ paths into and out of STEM fields. Retrieved from

Cohen, J. (1992). A power primer. Psychological Bulletin, 112, 155–159. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.112.1.155

CollegeBoard. (2018). Math Test. Retrieved from

Crisp, G., Nora, A., & Taggart, A. (2009). Student characteristics, pre-college, college, and environmental factors as predictors of majoring in and earning a STEM degree: An analysis of students attending a Hispanic serving institution. American Educational Research Journal, 46, 924–942. doi:10.3102/0002831209349460

Cundiff, J. L., Vescio, T. K., Loken, E., & Lo, L. (2013). Do gender-science stereotypes predict science identification and science career aspirations among undergraduate science majors? Social Psychology of Education, 16, 541–554. doi:10.1007/s11218-013-9232-8

Dagley, M. A., Young, C. Y., Georgiopoulos, M., Daire, A. P., Parkinson, C., Prescod, D. J., & Belser, C. T. (2016). Recruiting undecided admits to pursue a STEM degree. Proceedings from the American Society for Engineering Education 123rd Annual Conference & Exposition. Retrieved from

Dempster, A., Laird, N., & Rubin, D. (1977). Maximum likelihood from incomplete data via the EM algorithm. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, Series B, 39, 1–38.

Dixon-Román, E. J., Everson, H. T., & McArdle, J. J. (2013). Race, poverty, and SAT scores: Modeling the influences of family income on black and white high school students’ SAT performance. Teachers College Record, 115, 1–33.

Doerschuk, P., Bahrim, C., Daniel, J., Kruger, J., Mann, J., & Martin, C. (2016). Closing the gaps and filling the STEM pipeline: A multidisciplinary approach. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 25, 682–695. doi:10.1007/s10956-016-9622-8

Ewing, M., Huff, K., Andrews, M., & King, K. (2005). Assessing the reliability of skills measured by the SAT (Report No. RN-24). New York, NY: CollegeBoard. Retrieved from

Faul, F., Erdfelder, E., Lang, A. G., & Buchner, A. (2007). G*Power 3: A flexible statistical power analysis program for the social, behavioral, and biomedical sciences. Behavior Research Methods, 39, 175–191.

Field, A. (2009). Discovering statistics using SPSS (3rd ed.). London, England: Sage Publications.

Folsom, B., Peterson, G. W., Reardon, R. C., & Mann, B. A. (2005). Impact of a career planning course on academic performance and graduation rate. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice, 6, 461–473. doi:10.2190/4WJ2-CJL1-V9DP-HBMF

Foltz, L. G., Gannon, S., & Kirschmann, S. L. (2014). Factors that contribute to the persistence of minority students in STEM fields. Planning for Higher Education Journal, 42(4), 46–58.

Gall, M. D., Gall, J. P., & Borg, W. R. (2007). Educational research: An introduction (8th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Gayles, J. G., & Ampaw, F. (2014). The impact of college experiences on degree completion in STEM fields at four-year institutions: Does gender matter? The Journal of Higher Education, 85, 439–468.

Gottfredson, L. (1981). Circumscription and compromise: A developmental theory of occupational aspirations. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 28, 545–579. doi:10.1037/0022-0167.28.6.545

Holland, J. L. (1973). Making vocational choices: A theory of vocational personalities and work environments (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Hosmer, D. W., Jr., Lemeshow, S., & Sturdivant, R. X. (2013). Applied logistic regression (3rd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Koenig, K., Schen, M., Edwards, M., & Bao, L. (2012). Addressing STEM retention through a scientific thought and methods course. Journal of College Science Teaching, 41(4), 23–29.

Lawlor, S., Richman, S., & Richman, C. L. (1997). The validity of using the SAT as a criterion for black and white students’ admission to college. College Student Journal, 31, 507–515.

Le, H., Robbins, S. B., & Westrick, P. (2014). Predicting student enrollment and persistence in college STEM fields using an expanded P-E fit framework: A large-scale multilevel study. Journal of Applied Psychology, 99, 915–947. doi:10.1037/a0035998

Lent, R. W., Brown, S. D., & Hackett, G. (2002). Social cognitive career theory. In D. Brown (Ed.), Career choice and development (4th ed., pp. 255–311). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Lent, R. W., Miller, M. J., Smith, P. E., Watford, B. A., Lim, R. H., & Hui, K. (2016). Social cognitive predictors of academic persistence and performance in engineering: Applicability across gender and race/ethnicity. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 94, 79–88. doi:10.1016/j.jvb.2016.02.012

Little, R. J. A. (1988). A test of missing completely at random for multivariate data with missing values. Journal of the American Statistical Association, 83, 1198–1202. doi:10.2307/2290157

Little, R. J. A., & Rubin, D. B. (2002). Statistical analysis with missing data (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Wiley.

Litzler, E., Samuelson, C. C., & Lorah, J. A. (2014). Breaking it down: Engineering student STEM confidence at the intersection of race/ethnicity and gender. Research in Higher Education, 55, 810–832.

Mansfield, K. C., Welton, A. D., & Grogan, M. (2014). “Truth or consequences”: A feminist critical policy analysis of the STEM crisis. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 27, 1155–1182.

Mattern, K. D., & Patterson, B. F. (2013). The relationship between SAT scores and retention to the second year: Replication with the 2010 SAT validity sample (College Board Statistical Report No. 2013-1). New York, NY: The College Board. Retrieved from

National Career Development Association. (2015). Career development theory and its application. Broken Arrow, OK: Author.

National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. (2017). Women, minorities, and persons with disabilities in science and engineering. Retrieved from

National Science Board. (2018). Science & engineering indicators 2018. Retrieved from

Nosek, B. A., & Smyth, F. L. (2011). Implicit social cognitions predict sex differences in math engagement and achievement. American Educational Research Journal, 48, 1125–1156. doi:10.3102/0002831211410683

Osborn, D. S., Howard, D. K., & Leierer, S. (2007). The effect of a career development course on the dysfunctional career thoughts of racially and ethnically diverse college freshmen. The Career Development Quarterly, 55, 365–377. doi:10.1002/j.2161-0045.2007.tb00091.x

Palmer, R. T., Maramba, D. C., & Dancy, T. E., II (2011). A qualitative investigation of factors promoting the retention and persistence of students of color in STEM. The Journal of Negro Education, 80, 491–504.

Peterson, G. W., Sampson, J. P., Jr., Lenz, J. G., & Reardon, R. C. (2002). A cognitive information processing approach to career problem solving and decision making. In D. Brown (Ed.), Career choice and development (4th ed., pp. 312–369). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Peduzzi, P., Concato, J., Kemper, E., Holford, T. R., & Feinstein, A. R. (1996). A simulation study of the number of events per variable in logistic regression analysis. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, 49, 1373–1379. doi:10.1016/S0895-4356(96)00236-3

Prescod, D. J., Daire, A. P., Young, C. Y., Dagley, M. A., & Georgiopoulos, M. (in press). Exploring negative career thoughts between STEM declared and STEM interested students. Journal of Employment Counseling, 55(4), 166–176.

Reardon, R., & Fiore, E. (2014). College career courses and learner outputs and outcomes, 1976-2014 (Technical report No. 55). Tallahassee, FL: Center for the Study of Technology in Counseling & Career Development, Florida State University. Retrieved from

Reardon, R. C., Melvin, B., McClain, M. C., Peterson, G. W., & Bowman, W. J. (2015). The career course as a factor in college graduation. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory, & Practice, 17, 336–350. doi:10.1177/1521025115575913

Riegle-Crumb, C., & King, B. (2010). Questioning a white male advantage in STEM: Examining disparities
in college major by gender and race/ethnicity. Educational Researcher, 39, 656–664. doi:10.3102/0013189X10391657

Riegle-Crumb, C., King, B., Grodsky, E., & Muller, C. (2012). The more things change, the more they stay the same? Prior achievement fails to explain gender inequality in entry into STEM college majors over time. American Educational Research Journal, 49, 1048–1073. doi:10.3102/0002831211435229

Rohr, S. L. (2012). How well does the SAT and GPA predict the retention of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and business students? Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory, & Practice, 14, 195–208. doi:10.2190/CS.14.2.c

Sampson, J. P., Jr., Peterson, G. W., Lenz, J. G., Reardon, R. C., & Saunders, D. E. (1996a). Career Thoughts Inventory: Professional manual. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.

Sampson, J. P., Jr., Peterson, G. W., Lenz, J. G., Reardon, R. C., & Saunders, D. E. (1996b). Improving your career thoughts: A workbook for the Career Thoughts Inventory. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.

Saunders, D. E., Peterson, G. W., Sampson, J. P., Jr., & Reardon, R. C. (2000). Relation of depression and dysfunctional career thinking to career indecision. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 56, 288–298. doi:10.1006/jvbe.1999.1715

Schneider, K. R., Bickel, A., & Morrison-Shetlar, A. (2015). Planning and implementing a comprehensive student-centered research program for first-year STEM undergraduates. Journal of College Science Teaching, 44(3), 37–43.

Sithole, A., Chiyaka, E. T., McCarthy, P., Mupinga, D. M., Bucklein, B. K., & Kibirige, J. (2017). Student attraction, persistence and retention in STEM programs: Successes and continuing challenges. Higher Education Studies, 7, 46–59. doi:10.5539/hes.v7n1p46

Tabachnick, B. G., & Fidell, L. S. (2013). Using multivariate statistics (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

Toldson, I. A., & McGee, T. (2014). What the ACT and SAT mean for black students’ higher education prospects. The Journal of Negro Education, 83, 1–3.

Vittinghoff, E., & McCulloch, C. E. (2006). Relaxing the rule of ten events per variable in logistic and Cox regression. American Journal of Epidemiology, 165, 710–718.

Wyatt, J. N., Remigio, M., & Camara, W. J. (2012). SAT Subject Area Readiness Indicators: Reading, Writing, & STEM. Retrieved from


Christopher T. Belser, NCC, is an assistant professor at the University of New Orleans. M. Ann Shillingford is an associate professor at the University of Central Florida. Andrew P. Daire is a dean at Virginia Commonwealth University. Diandra J. Prescod is an assistant professor at Pennsylvania State University. Melissa A. Dagley is an executive director at the University of Central Florida. Correspondence can be addressed to Christopher Belser, 2000 Lakeshore Drive, Bicentennial Education Center Room 174, New Orleans, LA 70148,

The Role of High School and College Counselors in Supporting the Psychosocial and Emotional Needs of Latinx First-Generation College Students

Angelica M. Tello, Marlise R. Lonn

Latinx first-generation college students (FGCS) are a growing population faced with unique challenges for college retention and graduation. Because their parents did not attend postsecondary education, this group of college students has not inherited the social or cultural capital common to many traditional college freshmen. Both high school and college counselors are in positions to support the psychosocial and emotional needs of Latinx FGCS, which may increase successful college completion rates. This article provides high school and college counselors with (a) an overview of FGCS’ characteristics, (b) information specific to Latinx culture, (c) an understanding of the college experiences of Latinx FGCS, and (d) a discussion of counseling implications for addressing the psychosocial and emotional needs of this population.

Keywords: first-generation college students, school counselors, college counselors, Latinx, retention

Although higher education is now more accessible to students from disadvantaged backgrounds, universities are still struggling with retention and graduation rates of first-generation college students (FGCS; Slaughter, 2009). In higher education, FGCS refers to students whose parents did not attend college or any postsecondary institution (Wang & Castañeda-Sound, 2008). In 2008, 15 million FGCS were enrolled in higher education, and approximately 4.5 million were from low-income backgrounds (The Pell Institute, 2008). Additionally, only 11% of FGCS earn a bachelor’s degree in six years compared to 55% of non-FGCS (The Pell Institute, 2008). Moreover, FGCS are 71% more likely to leave college in their first year than non-FGCS (Pratt, Harwood, Cavazos, & Ditzfeld, 2017). Beyond the general challenges faced by many FGCS, including lack of transmission of cultural capital (e.g., familiarity with the dominant culture; Lundberg, Schreiner, Hovaguimian, & Miler, 2007; Saenz, Hurtado, Barrera, Wolf, & Yeung, 2007), Latinx FGCS experience additional barriers to college completion such as institutional invalidation and microaggressions (Saunders & Serna, 2004; Tello, 2015). Professional counselors working in high school and college settings are in unique positions to engage with FGCS to foster a supportive transition from high school to college to degree completion. The focus of this article is to provide high school and college counselors with (a) an overview of FGCS’ characteristics, (b) information specific to Latinx culture, (c) an understanding of the college experiences of Latinx FGCS, and (d) a discussion of counseling implications for addressing the psychosocial and emotional needs of this population. The term Latinx, a gender neutral term for Latina/o (Castro & Cortez, 2017; Vélez, 2016), is used throughout this article and is used interchangeably with the term Hispanic in the case of information cited from reports (e.g., by the U.S. Department of Education or the Pew Hispanic Center).

First-Generation College Students

Various studies (Lundberg et al., 2007; Prospero & Vohra-Gupta, 2007; Saenz et al., 2007) have highlighted how FGCS differ from the traditional non-FGCS college population. Demographically, FGCS tend to be female ethnic minorities from low socioeconomic families, and older than non-FGCS (Prospero & Vohra-Gupta, 2007). The struggles that FGCS face have been well documented. FGCS are often less academically prepared, often work while attending college, are not as likely to participate in campus extracurricular activities, and have family obligations (Bergerson, 2007; Tym, McMillion, Barone, & Webster, 2004). FGCS also tend to lack the cultural capital that non-FGCS receive from their parents (Lundberg et al., 2007; Saenz et al., 2007). In higher education, cultural capital relates to knowledge and understanding of what it means to be in college. Additionally, this is knowledge that is acquired over a long period of time (Ward, Siegel, & Davenport, 2012). For non-FGCS, parents are the most common source of cultural and social capital regarding ways to navigate academia and college life. The lack of cultural and social capital experienced by FGCS translates to a lack of knowledge about college degrees, persistence, and retention resources. Furthermore, FGCS tend to report not receiving familial support in navigating higher education (Lowery-Hart & Pacheco, 2011; Stieha, 2010). Studies (Orbe, 2004, 2008) have begun to highlight that many FGCS also struggle with negotiating multiple identities. Being an FGCS is not the only identity that these students experience. Other personal identities, such as race, ethnicity, and class, also tend to interplay with FGCS status.

In the research on FGCS, there is a lack of understanding of the intersection of identities experienced by specific FGCS populations. Latinxs are the fastest growing and largest racial group in the United States (Passel, Cohn, & Hugo Lopez, 2011). They also are the fastest growing population accessing higher education (Santiago, Calderón Galdeano, & Taylor, 2015). In 2010, the Pew Hispanic Center reported that Latinxs enrolled in college reached an “all-time high” (Fry, 2011, p. 3). From 2009 to 2010, there was a 24% growth in Latinx college enrollment (Fry, 2011). This represents an increase of 349,000 compared with an increase of 88,000 African Americans and 43,000 Asian Americans (Fry, 2011). Although the gap in college enrollment is beginning to narrow, Latinx continue to be the least educated racial group in regards to bachelor’s degree achievement. In 2010, only 13% of Latinxs completed a bachelor’s degree (Fry, 2011). In 2013–2014, White students earned 68% and Latinx students earned 11% of all bachelor’s degrees awarded (vs. 7% in 2003–2004). While this was a significant increase, Latinxs are still underrepresented in comparison to their percentage of the population (Snyder, de Brey, & Dillow, 2016). In order to provide Latinx FGCS support, high school and college counselors need to begin understanding their experiences, which can aid in increasing their college retention and graduation rates.

There are benefits of having professional school and college counselors working with Latinx FGCS. High school and college counselors can play vital roles in helping to increase the college enrollment and persistence of underrepresented groups in higher education, including low-income students, FGCS, and students of color (Bishop, 2010; McDonough, 2005; McKillip, Rawls, & Barry, 2012). The retention and graduation rates for Latinx FGCS are significantly lower than traditional students’ rates (Slaughter, 2009). Many universities have recognized that students of color are an at-risk group for dropping out prior to graduation (Atherton, 2014). As a result, these universities are trying to find ways to provide the best support for this population. Research on the academic performance and persistence of FGCS has increased, but there are only a few studies that focus on the psychological well-being of these students (Wang & Castañeda-Sound 2008). A deeper understanding of Latinx culture will assist counselors as they consider how to work effectively with this population.

Latinx Culture

Understanding Latinx culture can help high school and college counselors in providing culturally competent services to Latinx FGCS. In Latinx culture, there is an emphasis placed on upholding interpersonal relationships (Hernández, Ramírez Garcia, & Flynn, 2010; Kuhlberg, Peña, & Zayas, 2010). Therefore, many Latinx cultural values revolve around supporting interpersonal relationships. Although many Latinx groups share cultural commonalities, there are between-group and within-group differences (Sue & Sue, 2016). The Latinx cultural values described in this section may vary based on the individual’s generational status (e.g., first-generation in the United States versus third generation or beyond) and level of acculturation. According to Sue and Sue (2016), three-fourths of Latinx in the United States are third-generation Americans or higher. In order to gain an understanding of some of the significant Latinx cultural values, a discussion below is provided on familismo, personalismo, simpático, and fatalismo.


Familismo refers to family interdependence, cohesiveness, and loyalty, as well as placing family needs before personal needs (Baumann, Kuhlberg, & Zayas, 2010; Marín & Marín, 1991). For many Latinx, family also encompasses extended family (e.g., grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins), close friends, and godparents. The cultural value of familismo involves: “(a) perceived obligation to provide material and emotional support to members of the extended family, (b) reliance on relatives for help and support, and (c) the perception of relatives as behavioral and attitudinal referents” (Marín & Marín, 1991, pp. 13–14). Therefore, extended family and friends will be the first source of support for many Latinx. Seeking help from outside the family might only occur after no resources are provided by extended family and friends (Sue & Sue, 2016). Although familismo may be a source of support for many Latinx, it also can contribute to stress (Aguilera, Garza, & Muñoz, 2010). Family obligations and responsibilities may be placed above outside factors, such as school and work (Avila & Avila, 1995; Franklin & Soto, 2002). However, it is important for high school and college counselors to understand that placing family responsibilities above school does not mean education is not valued by Latinx students and their families. Counselors must tailor their approaches to take into account the client’s cultural expectations for assisting family in times of need.


Personalismo refers to a “personalized communication style that is characterized by interactions that are respectful, interdependent, and cooperative” (Sue & Sue, 2016, p. 534). In addition, a focus is placed on personal interactions in relationships instead of more formal approaches (Holloway, Waldrip, & Ickes, 2009). Counselors may consider attending to rapport building as an essential building block in the first session rather than the more formal interactions associated with completing paperwork and conducting initial assessments. Furthermore, relationships are not viewed as “means to another end” (Clauss-Ehlers, 2006, p. 412); instead, the focus is on privileging a sense of connectedness and warmth over individual achievements or material success. Maintaining positive relationships is central to the Latinx cultural value of personalismo (Clauss-Ehlers, 2006). As a result, high school and college counselors must work on being visible on their campuses and actively engaging with Latinx students.


In Latinx culture, simpático is a relational style that “emphasizes the promotion and maintenance of harmonious and smooth interactions” (Holloway et al., 2009, p. 1012). In relationships, a space is created that is personal, hospitable, and courteous (Holloway et al., 2009). Holloway et al. (2009) described simpático as a self-schema where “one attempts (a) to treat other people in a gracious and accepting manner, (b) to think about others as deserving such treatment, and (c) to think about oneself as the kind of person who treats others in that manner” (p. 1013). In a study conducted by Holloway et al., their findings indicated Latinx reported significantly higher simpáctico-related traits than White participants. As a result, Latinx students may not want to bring up problems that are occurring on their campuses. High school and college counselors must work on creating a safe space for Latinx clients to feel comfortable to voice their concerns.


Fatalismo, also known as fatalism, refers to the belief some Latinx hold related to fate. For Latinx who have traditional cultural values, they may “believe that life’s misfortunes are inevitable and feel resigned to their fate” (Sue & Sue, 2016, p. 532). Additionally, fatalismo is typically connected with religious and spiritual views (Hovey & Morales, 2006; Sue & Sue, 2016). Positive and negative life events can be viewed as controlled by “divine will” (Hovey & Morales, 2006, p. 410). When seeking counseling or mental health services, Latinx with fatalismo cultural values may seem to take a passive approach to problems or may not appear assertive in addressing the problem (Hovey & Morales, 2006; Sue & Sue, 2016). This does not mean the client does not want to address their presenting concern or problem. High school and college counselors will need to tailor their approaches for Latinx clients who hold this cultural belief.

In examining the psychosocial experiences of Latinx FGCS, an understanding of Latinx culture is necessary. Even though there are within-group differences, Latinx college students can sometimes share common cultural values and educational experiences. For many Latinx, supporting interpersonal relationships is an important cultural value (Hernández et al., 2010; Kuhlberg et al., 2010). However, the current literature on Latinx college students brings attention to the cultural incongruence this population experiences in higher education and the negative impact it has on their college persistence (Gloria & Rodriguez, 2000; Hurtado, 1994). In addition, many Latinx college students experience racial tensions on their campus, such as racism and microaggressions, which also negatively impact college retention (Yosso, Smith, Ceja, & Solórzano, 2009).

Factors That Impact the Retention of Latinx FGCS

Latinx college students often face similar challenges as the general FGCS population. They also face barriers in terms of cultural capital, socioeconomic status, and sociocultural experiences (Delgado Gaitan, 2013; Hurtado, Carter, & Spuler, 1996). The existing literature on Latinx college students identified the university environment, social support, and self-beliefs as factors that impacted the retention of Latinx college students (Cerezo & Chang, 2013; Gloria, Castellanos, Lopez, & Rosales, 2005; Hurtado et al., 1996).

University Environment

Several researchers have discussed the impact a university’s environment can have on the persistence of Latinx college students (Gloria et al., 2005; Hurtado & Carter, 1997; Hurtado, Milem, Clayton-Pedersen, & Allen, 1998; Rendón, 1994). Many Latinx college students navigate higher education by balancing their cultural upbringing and the culture of college (Gloria & Rodriguez, 2000; Hurtado, 1994). However, some Latinx students experience a cultural incongruence (i.e., lack of cultural fit between the student and his or her university), and the difficulties that arise can lead to issues in college persistence (Gloria & Rodriguez, 2000; Hurtado, 1994). Recent studies have supported that the cultural congruency of Latinx college students is positively associated with academic achievement and persistence (Cerezo & Chang, 2013; Edman & Brazil, 2009). Latinx students who experience a cultural fit with their university perceive fewer barriers to their education (Gloria, Castellanos, Scull, & Villegas, 2009). According to Hurtado and Carter (1997), Latinx college students attending predominately White universities described that “feeling at ‘home’ in the campus community is associated with maintaining interactions both within and outside the college community” (p. 338). Furthermore, Latinx college students reported experiencing negative stereotypes, prejudices, marginalization, and microaggressions (Gonzales, Blanton, & Williams, 2002; Rodriguez, Guido-DiBrito, Torres, & Talbot, 2000; Valencia, 2002; Yosso et al., 2009).


Victims of racial and gender microaggressions have identified these as one of the most direct forms of verbal and/or physical assault (Pierce, 1995; Storlie, Moreno, & Portman, 2014). Moreover, microaggressions are more pervasive and occur at a more frequent rate than many realize. While these preconscious or unconscious slights, insults, and degradations may seem harmless or subtle, it is important to be aware that “the cumulative burden of a lifetime of microaggressions can theoretically contribute to diminished mortality, augmented morbidity, and flattened confidence” (Pierce, 1995, p. 281).

Yosso et al. (2009) interviewed 37 Latinx college students attending predominately White institutions that were classified as Carnegie Doctoral/Research Universities-Extensive to understand Latinx students’ experiences of microagressions. Focus groups were completed with three to six students at a time (Yosso et al., 2009). The researchers reported that the Latinx college students in the study experienced three types of microaggressions: (a) interpersonal microaggressions (i.e., verbal and nonverbal racial insults or slights that were directed to the students by faculty, staff, and students), (b) racial jokes, and (c) institutional microaggressions (i.e., a hostile campus climate created by racially marginalized actions through a university’s structure, discourses, and practices toward students of color; Yosso et al., 2009).

The interpersonal microaggressions experienced by the participants included White professors allowing for flexibility in rules with White students but not Latinx students, and Latinx students feeling their professors had low expectations for them or were uncomfortable talking to them (Yosso et al., 2009). For some of the students, racial jokes reduced their sense of belonging and decreased their participation in campus activities (Yosso et al., 2009). In terms of institutional microaggressions, some students felt they were only visible to administrators during culturally related programs on their campuses, but at other times they were neglected by administrators (Yosso et al., 2009). Moreover, the microagressions experienced by the students led them to doubt “their academic merits and capabilities, demean their ethnic identity, and dismiss their cultural knowledge” (Yosso et al., 2009, p. 667). As a result, the students felt rejected by their universities. Yosso et al. (2009) reported that the students engaged in community-building found “counterspaces” on their campuses (student-run spaces such as campus multicultural centers, community outreach programs, or cultural floors in residence halls) where they experienced their cultures as “valuable strengths” (Yosso et al., 2009, p. 677). These findings were similar to those identified in a content analysis of Latinx college student experiences conducted by Storlie et al. (2014).

The Strengths of Latinx FGCS

Researchers have examined the coping strategies and resiliency of Latinx college students (Cavazos, Johnson, Fielding, et al., 2010; Cavazos, Johnson, & Sparrow, 2010). Historically, the literature on Latinx college students focused on the challenges they experienced in higher education (Delgado Gaitan, 2013; Hurtado et al., 1996). However, researchers also can learn from the cultural assets, strengths, and resiliency of Latinx students (Borrero, 2011). Morales (2008) noted that a “deeper understanding of achievement processes can be attained” by examining the experiences of successful Latinx students (p. 25). Latinx FGCS have experienced success as students; they are the first in their families to attend college. Taking a strengths-based approach in evaluating the experiences of Latinx FGCS also aligns with the tenets of the counseling profession (American Counseling Association, 2014).

Coping Strategies

Cavazos, Johnson, and Sparrow (2010) conducted a qualitative study examining the coping responses of high-achieving Latinx college students. The researchers interviewed 11 Latinx college students attending a Hispanic-serving institution. Nine of the participants were low-income FGCS. When faced with barriers and stressors, the Latinxs interviewed in the study reported using the following coping strategies: (a) positive reframing (e.g., staying positive through optimism and self-confidence), (b) acceptance (e.g., challenges were unavoidable and a part of life), (c) positive self-talk, (d) long-term goal setting, (e) gaining motivation from low expectations, (f) self-reflection (e.g., learning from life experiences), (g) taking action, and (h) seeking support (e.g., reaching out to family members and falling back on religious views; Cavazos, Johnson, and Sparrow, 2010). Although Cavazos, Johnson, and Sparrow (2010) did not overtly discuss how Latinx cultural values integrated into the participants’ coping responses, it appears that many of the themes aligned with Latinx culture. For instance, the theme of acceptance had similar characteristics to fatalismo, and seeking support reflected the qualities of familismo.


Cavazos, Johnson, Fielding, et al. (2010) discussed the resiliency of Latinx college students. The researchers built upon the Cavazos, Johnson, and Sparrow (2010) study that examined the coping responses of Latinx students. Cavazos, Johnson, Fielding, et al. (2010) reported that Latinx participants experienced the following resiliency factors: (a) goal setting (e.g., they had clear and specific goals),
(b) interpersonal relationships (e.g., receiving high expectations and encouragement from family),
(c) intrinsic motivation (e.g., pursing majors that would allow them to help others), (d) internal locus of control, and (e) self-efficacy (Cavazos, Johnson, and Sparrow, 2010). Counselors working with Latinx FGCS on the high school or college levels need to be aware of these resiliency factors so they can provide culturally competent support.

Implications for High School and College Counselors

High school and college counselors can play important roles in the college transition and persistence of Latinx FGCS (Adelman, 1999; Avery, 2010; Bishop, 2010; McDonough, 2005; McKillip et al., 2012). Counselors can provide FGCS with college information and support, which is the cultural capital that most FGCS lack. Therefore, an implication for school counselors includes identifying college-bound Latinx FGCS and tailoring college information to these students. Counselors can design interventions at both the individual and school-wide levels to use the strengths inherent in Latinx cultural norms. Counselors may consider leveraging familismo and intentionally design outreach programs and psychoeducation related to college preparation, information, activities, and expectations to include students’ families and friends. Engaging in informal interactions and hosting events in the community (as opposed to within school buildings) may enhance participant comfort with attending events. Topics may include: (a) helping family members have realistic expectations of academia and campus life, (b) addressing the potential of students feeling isolated or stretched between campus and family life, and (c) fostering a college-going mentality by providing information on course rigor, careers, college admission, and the financial aid process.

A similar implication can be directed toward college counselors. It is important for college counselors to have a presence on their campus beyond the counseling center. In particular, they can develop and support initiatives on campus directed toward the psychosocial needs of Latinx FGCS. Thus, college counselors having an increased presence on their campus can help Latinx FGCS understand the support counseling can offer in assisting with college persistence. College counselors can time outreach, interventions, and services to target developmental windows when FGCS’ identity is most salient for students—typically when entering college and when approaching graduation (Orbe, 2004). Additionally, counselors are equipped to provide social and emotional support for negotiating and navigating new and multiple identities and addressing feelings of isolation, both on the college campus and with family. When conceptualizing clients, understanding and framing cultural expressions and values as strengths is critical. For example, fatalismo is reframed from the idea of accepting defeat to moving toward acceptance and using this as a strength that allows the client to move forward in new directions.

Many Latinx students also experience negative stereotypes, prejudices, marginalization, and microaggressions (Gonzales et al., 2002; Rodriguez et al., 2000; Valencia, 2002; Yosso et al., 2009) on their campuses. These experiences may lead many Latinx FGCS to question their sense of belonging on their campuses. High school and college counselors can develop and encourage initiatives supporting diversity on their campuses. Furthermore, high school and college counselors can help Latinx FGCS develop positive coping strategies for dealing with the lack of diversity on their campuses and the internal struggles that arise with their sense of belonging. Counselors should continue to maintain awareness of unconscious bias, engage in accessing diversity and advocacy continuing education, and act as allies. Adopting the habit of framing the unique cultural context of individual Latinx clients as strengths, fostering connections, and identifying culturally applicable adjunct supportive services (e.g., spiritual or religious supports) are within the purview of professional counselors.

The general consensus in college student development theory is that to successfully adjust to college, students need to break from their own culture in order to conform to higher education culture (Nora, 2001; Rendón, 1994). To address this, universities typically provide programming designed to help students adapt to and adopt the existing institutional culture (Rendón, 1994). Alternately, college counselors are in positions that can challenge the privileging of traditional assumptions and values of the academy and influence the recognition and valuing of multiple cultures and ways of being. Rather than requiring students to negotiate overt and covert norms that assume prior knowledge or familiarity with the culture of higher education, counselors can help students identify counterspaces within the institution. For Latinx FGCS, this might include connecting with diverse faculty who could serve as mentors, participating in programs from the multicultural affairs office, or participating in student organizations centered on Latinx culture and identities. Developing relationships with key members of the campus Latinx community and moving access to counseling services outside of the traditional, potentially restrictive environment of the university counseling center may enhance service access and delivery for this underrepresented student population.

Areas for Future Research

Researchers are beginning to examine the concept of cultural wealth (O’Shea, 2016; Yosso, 2005) as it applies to FGCS. Examining Latinx FGCS and the college experience from this lens fits with the strengths-based perspective inherent in counseling and provides an opportunity for professional counselors to reframe their interventions. Further research is warranted on the high school and college experiences of Latinx FGCS. All Latinx cultures tend to be lumped together. Researchers could investigate the experiences of FGCS from an ethnic-specific Latinx group (e.g., Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, or Cubans). Moreover, research could examine the counseling experiences of Latinx FGCS. Examining the counseling experiences of Latinx FGCS can help professional counselors gain a better understanding of their counseling needs. Another possible direction for future research includes examining the microaggressions experienced by Latinx FGCS; future studies need to fully investigate the impact of microaggressions on the college persistence of Latinx FGCS. The findings from these studies can help high school and college counselors understand how they can begin to address the concerns that negatively impact Latinx FGCS.


Latinx FGCS are a growing demographic on college campuses. However, it is clear that these students are not receiving the support needed to assist in their transition from high school to college. The psychosocial and emotional needs of Latinx FGCS are often overlooked in the literature. Latinx students who feel culturally incongruent on their campuses struggle with their sense of belonging (Edman & Brazil, 2009; Hurtado & Carter, 1997). High school and college counselors have the skills to help address the psychosocial and emotional needs of Latinx FGCS. Furthermore, high school and college counselors can work together to share knowledge and bridge the gap between high school and college expectations, institutional culture, and provision of counseling services in ways that would benefit Latinx FGCS.


Conflict of Interest and Funding Disclosure

The authors reported no conflict of interest or funding contributions for the development of this manuscript.



Adelman, C. (1999). Answers in the tool box: Academic intensity, attendance patterns, and bachelor’s degree attainment. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

Aguilera, A., Garza, M. J., & Muñoz, R. F. (2010). Group cognitive-behavioral therapy for depression in Spanish: Culture-sensitive manualized treatment in practice. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 66, 857–867. doi:10.1002/jclp.20706

American Counseling Association. (2014). 2014 ACA code of ethics. Retrieved from

Atherton, M. C. (2014). Academic preparedness of first-generation college students: Different perspectives. Journal of College Student Development, 55, 824–829. doi:10.1353/csd.2014.0081

Avery, C. (2010). The effects of college counseling on high-achieving, low-income students. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research. Retrieved from

Avila, D. L., & Avila, A. L. (1995). Mexican-Americans. In N. A. Vacc, S. B. DeVaney, & J. Wittmer (Eds.), Experiencing and counseling multicultural and diverse populations (3rd ed., pp. 119–146). Bristol, PA: Accelerated Development.

Baumann, A. A., Kuhlberg, J. A., & Zayas, L. H. (2010). Familism, mother-daughter mutuality, and suicide attempts of adolescent Latinas. Journal of Family Psychology, 24, 616–624. doi:10.1037/a0020584

Bergerson, A. A. (2007). Exploring the impact of social class on adjustment to college: Anna’s story. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 20, 99–119. doi:10.1080/09518390600923610

Bishop, J. B. (2010). The counseling center: An undervalued resource in recruitment, retention, and risk management. Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, 24, 248–260. doi:10.1080/87568225.2010.509219

Borrero, N. (2011). Shared success: Voices of first-generation college-bound Latino/as. Multicultural Education, 18(4), 24–30.

Castro, E. L., & Cortez, E. (2017). Exploring the lived experiences and intersectionalities of Mexican community college transfer students: Qualitative insights toward expanding a transfer receptive culture. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 41(2), 77–92. doi:10.1080/10668926.2016.1158672

Cavazos, J., Jr., Johnson, M. B., Fielding, C., Cavazos, A. G., Castro, V., & Vela, L. (2010). A qualitative study of resilient Latina/o college students. Journal of Latinos and Education, 9(3), 172–188. doi:10.1080/15348431003761166

Cavazos, J., Jr., Johnson, M. B., & Sparrow, G. S. (2010). Overcoming personal and academic challenges: Perspectives from Latina/o college students. Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, 9, 304–316.

Cerezo, A. C., & Chang, T. (2013). Latina/o achievement at predominantly white universities: The importance of culture and ethnic community. Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, 12, 72–85. doi:10.1177/1538192712465626

Clauss-Ehlers, C. S. (2006). Religious/spiritual beliefs: Personalismo. In Y. Jackson (Ed.), Encyclopedia of multicultural psychology (pp. 411–412). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Delgado Gaitan, C. (2013). Creating a college culture for Latino students: Successful programs, practices, and strategies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Edman, J. L., & Brazil, B. (2009). Perceptions of campus climate, academic efficacy and academic success among community college students: An ethnic comparison. Social Psychology of Education, 12, 371–383. doi:10.1007/s11218-008-9082-y

Franklin, C. G., & Soto, I. (2002). Keeping Hispanic youths in school. Children & Schools, 24, 139–143. doi:10.1093/cs/24.3.139

Fry, R. (2011). Hispanic college enrollment spikes, narrowing gaps with other groups. Washington, DC: Pew Hispanic Center.

Gloria, A. M., Castellanos, J., Lopez, A. G., & Rosales, R. (2005). An examination of academic nonpersistence decisions of Latino undergraduates. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 27, 202–223. doi:10.1177/0739986305275098

Gloria, A. M., Castellanos, J., Scull, N. C., & Villegas, F. J. (2009). Psychological coping and well-being of male Latino undergraduates: Sobreviviendo la universidad. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 31, 317–339.

Gloria, A. M., & Rodriguez, E. R. (2000). Counseling Latino university students: Psychosociocultural issues for consideration. Journal of Counseling & Development, 78, 145–154. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6676.2000.tb02572.x

Gonzales, P. M., Blanton, H., & Williams, K. J. (2002). The effects of stereotype threat and double-minority status on the test performance of Latino women. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, 659–670. doi:10.1177/0146167202288010

Hernández, B., Ramírez Garcia, J. I., & Flynn, M. (2010). The role of familism in the relation between parent-child discord and psychological distress among emerging adults of Mexican descent. Journal of Family Psychology, 24(2), 105–114. doi:10.1037/a0019140

Holloway, R. A., Waldrip, A. M., & Ickes, W. (2009). Evidence that a simpático self-schema accounts for differences in the self-concepts and social behavior of Latinos versus Whites (and Blacks). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96, 1012–1028. doi:10.1037/a0013883

Hovey, J. D., & Morales, L. R. (2006). Religious/spiritual beliefs: Fatalismo. In Y. Jackson (Ed.), Encyclopedia of multicultural psychology (pp. 409–410). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Hurtado, S. (1994). The institutional climate for talented Latino students. Research in Higher Education, 35, 21–41.

Hurtado, S., & Carter, D. F. (1997). Effects of college transition and perceptions of the campus racial climate on Latino college students’ sense of belonging. Sociology of Education, 70, 324–345.

Hurtado, S., Carter, D. F., & Spuler, A. (1996). Latino student transition to college: Assessing difficulties and factors in successful college adjustment. Research in Higher Education, 37, 135–157.

Hurtado, S., Milem, J. F., Clayton-Pederson, A. R., & Allen, W. R. (1998). Enhancing campus climates for racial/ ethnic diversity: Educational policy and practice. The Review of Higher Education, 21, 279–302. doi:10.1353/rhe.1998.0003

Kuhlberg, J. A., Peña, J. B., & Zayas, L. H. (2010). Familism, parent-adolescent conflict, self-esteem, internalizing behaviors, and suicide attempts among adolescent Latinas. Child Psychiatry & Human Development, 41, 425–440. doi:10.1007/s10578-010-0179-0

Lowery-Hart, R., & Pacheco, G., Jr. (2011). Understanding the first-generation student experience in higher education through a relational dialectic perspective. New Directions for Teaching & Learning, 2011(127), 55–68. doi:10.1002/tl.457

Lundberg, C. A., Schreiner, L. A., Hovaguimian, K., & Miller, S. S. (2007). First generation status and student race/ethnicity as distinct predictors of student involvement and learning. NASPA Journal, 44, 57–83.

Marín, G., & Marín, B. V. (1991). Research with Hispanic populations: Applied social science research methods series volume 23. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

McDonough, P. M. (2005). Counseling and college counseling in America’s high schools. Alexandria, VA: National Association for College Admission Counseling. Retrieved from

McKillip, M. E. M., Rawls, A., & Barry, C. (2012). Improving college access: A review of research on the role of high school counselors. Professional School Counseling, 16, 49–58.

Morales, E. E. (2008). Academic resilience in retrospect: Following up a decade later. Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, 7, 228–248. doi:10.1177/1538192708317119

Nora, A. (2001). The depiction of significant others in Tinto’s ‘‘Rites of Passage’’: A reconceptualization of the influence of family and community in the persistence process. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice, 3, 41–56. doi:10.2190/BYT5-9F05-7F6M-5YCM

Orbe, M. P. (2004). Negotiating multiple identities within multiple frames: An analysis of first-generation college students. Communication Education, 53, 131–149. doi:10.1080/03634520410001682401

Orbe, M. P. (2008). Theorizing multidimensional identity negotiation: Reflections on the lived experiences of first-generation college students. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 2008(120), 81–95. doi:10.1002/cd.217

O’Shea, S. (2016). Avoiding the manufacture of ‘sameness’: First-in-family students, cultural capital and the higher education environment. Higher Education, 72, 59–78. doi:10.1007/s10734-015-9938-y

Passel, J. S., Cohn, D., & Hugo Lopez, M. (2011). Hispanics account for more than half of nation’s growth in past decade: Census 2010: 50 million Latinos. Washington, DC: Pew Hispanic Center.

The Pell Institute. (2008). Moving beyond access: College success for low-income first-generation students. Retrieved from

Pierce, C. M. (1995). Stress analogs of racism and sexism: Terrorism, torture, and disaster. In C. V. Willie, P. P. Rieker, B. M. Kramer, & B. S. Brown (Eds.), Mental health, racism, and sexism (pp. 277–293). Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Pratt, I. S., Harwood, H. B., Cavazos, J. T., & Ditzfeld, C. P. (2017). Should I stay or should I go? Retention of first-generation college students. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice, 36, 1–14. doi:10.1177/1521025117690868

Prospero, M., & Vohra-Gupta, S. (2007). First generation college students: Motivation, integration, and academic achievement. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 31, 963–975. doi:10.1080/10668920600902051

Rendón, L. I. (1994). Validating culturally diverse students: Toward a new model of learning and student development. Innovative Higher Education, 19, 33–51.

Rodriguez, A. L., Guido-DiBrito, F., Torres, V., & Talbot, D. (2000). Latina college students: Issues and challenges for the 21st century. NASPA Journal, 37, 511–527. doi:10.2202/1949-6605.1111

Saenz, V. B., Hurtado, S., Barrera, D., Wolf, D. S., & Yeung, F. P. (2007). First in my family: A profile of first-generation college students at four-year institutions since 1971: The Foundation for Independent Education. Retrieved from

Santiago, D. A., Calderón Galdeano, E., & Taylor, M. (2015). Factbook 2015: The condition of Latinos in education. Retrieved from

Saunders, M., & Serna, I. (2004). Making college happen: The college experiences of first-generation Latino students. Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, 3, 146–163. doi:10.1177/1538192703262515

Slaughter, J. B. (2009). It’s time to get angry about underserved students. Chronicle of Higher Education, 55(20), A68.

Snyder, T. D., de Brey, C., & Dillow, S. A. (2016). Digest of education statistics 2015 (NCES 2016-014). National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC. Retrieved from

Stieha, V. (2010). Expectations and experiences: The voice of a first-generation first-year college student and the question of student persistence. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 23, 237–249. doi:10.1080/09518390903362342

Storlie, C. A., Moreno, L. S., & Portman, T. A. A. (2014). Voices of Hispanic college students: A content analysis of qualitative research within the Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 36, 64–78. doi:10.1177/0739986313510283

Sue, D. W., & Sue, D. (2016). Counseling the culturally diverse: Theory and practice (7th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Tello, A. M. (2015). The psychosocial experiences of Latina first-generation college graduates who received financial and cultural capital support: A constructivist grounded theory (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest. (3702397)

Tym, C., McMillion, R., Barone, S., & Webster, J. (2004). First generation college students: A literature review. Austin, TX: Research and Analytical Services. Retrieved from

Valencia, R. R. (2002). Mexicans don’t value education!: On the basis of the myth, mythmaking, and debunking. Journal of Latinos and Education, 1(2), 81–103. doi:10.1207/S1532771XJLE0102_2

Vélez, V. N. (2016). Organizing for change: Latinx im/migrant parents, school decision-making, and the racial politics of parent leadership in social reform. Association of Mexican American Educators Journal, 10(3), 108–125. Retrieved from

Wang, C.-C. D. C., & Castañeda-Sound, C. (2008). The role of generational status, self-esteem, academic self-efficacy, and perceived social support in college students’ psychological well-being. Journal of College Counseling, 11(2), 101–118.

Ward, L., Siegel, M. J., & Davenport, Z. (2012). First-generation college students: Understanding and improving the experience from recruitment to commencement. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Yosso, T. J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race Ethnicity and Education, 8, 69–91. doi:10.1080/1361332052000341006

Yosso, T. J., Smith, W. A., Ceja, M., & Solórzano, D. G. (2009). Critical race theory, racial microaggressions, and
campus racial climate for Latina/o undergraduates. Harvard Educational Review, 79, 659–690.


Angelica M. Tello, NCC, is an assistant professor at the University of Houston-Clear Lake. Marlise R. Lonn, NCC, is an assistant professor at Bowling Green State University. Correspondence can be addressed to Angelica Tello, 2700 Bay Area Blvd., Houston, TX 77058-1002,