First-generation college students have received considerable attention in education research, yet there is still much that is unknown about their unique college experiences. This mixed-methods study provides a unique perspective on first-generation college students through the application of McClusky’s theory of margin to first-generation students in a TRIO Student Support Services program. McClusky identified life factors that influence one’s level of load (demands) and power (resources). The load, divided by power plus load, suggests one’s margin in life. McClusky further postulated that the nature of load and power factors is the key to understanding one’s margin in life. The purpose of this study is threefold. First, the study tested the ability of various life factors to predict margin in life scores for first-generation students. Second, the study sought to understand the nature of margin in life by exploring common load and power variables and the ways in which they affect first-generation students. Finally, the researchers examined how participation in TRIO SSS contributes to margin in life for first-generation students. Our findings support McClusky’s claim that the nature of life factors is crucial in understanding margin, as the quantitative results revealed that life factors alone do not predict margin in life. The qualitative exploration revealed salient life factors that contribute to load and power for participants, including TRIO Student Support Services. Furthermore, the study highlights the limitations of quantitative data to predict student experience and reveals subtleties best understood through in-depth qualitative consideration. Discussion of potential future research and practice implications are included.


Counseling, Leadership, and Special Education

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© Academy For Educational Studies. Published under Creative Commons Attribution International 4.0 license.


TRIO, Margin in life theory, first-generation college students. college student retention

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Critical Questions in Education