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Human CapitalHuman capital includes an individual's knowledge, skill, and motivation (Stanton-Salazar, 2001). The development of this capital can occur through formal and informal education, which provides space for the individual to expand their understanding of the information. For first generation college students with limited forms of human capital, understanding what information is important as well as academic preparedness can be difficult to determine as they navigate the college experience. However, for underrepresented populations, the academic rigor in a collegiate environment can be a stark contrast to many K-12 settings. “The gap in K-12 academic preparation and college participation rates between white students and African–American and Latino high school graduates has widened over the last several decades” (Wright, 2010, .p 126). Some evidence suggests that the disparities in academic achievement progressively worsen as students advance from the elementary to secondary schools (Wright, 2010). Too often students of underrepresented populations are enrolled in high schools that fail to meet the entrance requirements of competitive colleges. These high schools often provide fewer opportunities for students to take advanced academic courses, where they would develop college-level competencies and strategies to be successful in college settings (Stephens, Brannon, Markus, & Nelson, 2015). Subsequently, students suffer not only in K-12 schools, but also throughout their collegiate career.
Social CapitalSocial capital is the collective value of relationships which provides assistance and knowledge in a given social situation (Stanton-Salazar, 2001). According to the social capital theory, networks of trusting relationships can support students in navigating and managing unexplored environments by providing students with an understanding of resources and a community of information and emotional support as they navigate their collegiate career (Stanton-Salazar, 1995). The quantity and quality of these networks as well as the wealth of knowledge that exists within these spaces may explain the differences in persistence, engagement, and graduation abilities for first generation college students Social capital, built through meaningful interactions between people, facilitates the learning and use of these skills and knowledge. Social capital therefore promotes active and sustainable learning.
Cultural CapitalCultural Capital can be defined as items and experiences that are only accessible to those of a higher status within a given society. Cultural capital provides individuals with the opportunity to explore artistic outlets, such as theater, museums, and concerts, which are not accessible to all. The construction of cultural capital can be viewed through the lens of class divide and the implications of the wealthy determining what is constituted as elite behavior and what is not. The ability to participate in experiences that are categorized as elite allows for the individual to develop their cultural capital.
Economic CapitalEconomic capital explores the socio-economic status that a student and their family possess. Students who come from low-income neighborhoods may have limited access to quality educational systems, health care, nourishment, safety, experiential activities, and other factors that would impact their ability to enrich their social capital.
The limited access of human, social, cultural, and economic capital for FGCS creates barriers unforeseen to them. Access to knowledge, resources, support systems, and additional skills needed to navigate their college experiences, both inside and outside of the classroom, often leads to high dropout rates and excessive debt compared to their more affluent peers.