My colleague, David Morgan, and I developed the Two-Path Model of Student Performance to help explain how differences in differences in parental education levels of impacted students' understandings of the college student role and their experiences within colleges' academic system. A role is a set of expected behaviors for someone who occupies a specific social position, such as a parent, bus driver or college student. People from the same culture or sub-group tend to share similar understandings for a role such as college student. The primary way that roles are learned is through observing others' role modeling; individuals figure out what to do by watching what others do when they enact that role. They also learn the benefits and obligations of claiming a particular role by observing what happens to others when they enact that role. The Two-Path Model proposes that role mastery, knowledge of both explicit and implicit aspects of the student college role, is a resource that students draw upon in their efforts to succeed in their course-based interactions with professors. Explicit knowledge of the college student role is acquired in classrooms and other formal learning settings while implicit knowledge of the role is typically through interpersonal relationships, such as family, that occur outside of the classroom.
of College Student Performance
“Is that paper really due today? Differences in first-generation and traditional college students’ understandings of faculty members’ class-related expectations,” Collier, P., and Morgan, D. (2008). Higher Education, 55(4), p. 429.
The lower path of this model represents a traditional achievement model of education and focuses on how a student learns course content. On the lower path, a student’s academic abilities determine how well she understands course material, which then determines how well the student performs academically. Most of the activities along this path consist of formal learning, involving knowledge that is typically explicit and codified. We added an upper path to the model by including the "Fit Between Faculty and Student Expectations" as an additional influence that mediates the relationship between students' academic skills and their academic performances.
In the Two-Path Model, the ability to understand course material and display basic college level skills, such as writing a paper or reading college level texts, captured in the lower path, is a necessary but not sufficient predictor of how well a student will perform in her class. Cultural capital, in the form of knowing how to be a successful college student in regard to understanding of professors’ expectations is also necessary in order for the student to ultimately demonstrate her/his knowledge of course materials. Knowing how to be a successful college student refers to important information and strategies, such as how to get questions answered, determine what to study for an exam, or find help with academic writing assignments. These upper path activities can be characterized as informal learning, emphasizing knowledge that is typically personal and implicit. Comparing two students with equal understanding of the course material, the one with a better understanding of a faculty member’s expectations will perform better in that professor’s class.
Consistent with its dual-path approach, the model distinguishes between two parts of student performance, actual capacity and demonstrated capacity. Actual capacity refers to the full set of what the student knows and understands in regard to course materials. Demonstrated capacity, on the other hand, refers to the student’s ability to express what he knows and understands. Demonstrated capacity is what a faculty member uses when assigning grades.6 When a student complains, “I knew so much more then I got to show on that exam,” what he is really saying is “my actual knowledge is greater than I demonstrated on the exam.”
Sometimes this lack of fit between actual and demonstrated capacity is the result of students not understanding the professor’s expectations regarding what or how much content needs to be mastered to succeed in the class. At other times, a students’ inability to demonstrate all that he actually knows is the result ignoring the professor’s time management expectations.
Regardless of the reason, a student who does not understand his professor’s expectations ends up with a demonstrated performance that does not accurately represent all that student actually knows. Students who begin college with more family-based cultural capital in the form of understanding how to be a successful college student, are more likely to make sure that they understand what their professors expect from them and act accordingly. First-generation and other non-traditional students, on the other hand, may unintentionally demonstrate less than they actually know in a class assignments simply because they were not clear as to the professor’s expectations for that assignment.
Peer mentors can help mentees understand what professors expect and achieve positive college outcomes by sharing their college student expertise. Role modeling is the key. When mentors model the successful college student role, they share practical problem solving knowledge as well as providing mentees with back stage information on how the culture of higher education works.
The 2005-2009 US Department of Education Fund For the Improvement of Higher Education (FIPSE)-funded “Students First Mentoring Program” was a demonstration project that employed this approach in an effort to improve first-generation student academic performance and retention at Portland State University. The first set of files is from first three years of the FIPSE-funded project.
The second set of files includes additional data from the 2008-2009 year.
The 2007-2009 National Academic Advising Association (NACADA)-funded “Improving First-Generation, Low-Income Student Retention in Higher Education: Examining the Persistence of Role-Mastery based Advising and Telementoring Intervention Effects” project examined whether the positive effects of participating in a one-year mentoring program persisted beyond the program year.