Path Analysis of Effects of First-Generation Status on Physical Activity and 4-Year College Degree Completion

Sean Mullen, Yan Luo, John Adamek, Madhura Phansikar, Michael Mackenzie, Brent Roberts, Christopher R. Larrison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: First-generation college students (FGCS) face a myriad of sociocultural, financial, and emotional challenges that impact their educational journey. With less academic capital and lower odds of obtaining a bachelor’s degree than their non-FGCS peers, understanding the factors affecting their academic success is pivotal for social work professionals aiming to provide tailored interventions and support systems. This study delved into the potential differences between these groups concerning physical activities, which are linked to learning, cognition, and overall well-being, and evaluated their influence on degree completion. Method: A path model was developed to analyze the relationship between degree completion, physical activities, FGCS status, and background variables, using a sample of 1,625 participants. Results: The model showed a strong fit (CFI = 0.979, RMSEA = 0.055, SRMR = 0.010) and accounted for 29.5% of the variance in degree completion. Walking to school was positively associated with degree attainment. FGCS status was associated with decreased walking to school, reduced degree completion, and increased walking for exercise. An indirect effect suggested that FGCS were less likely to achieve their degree, potentially due to a greater reliance on transportation like buses or cars. Discussion: The findings emphasize the critical role of campus resources for FGCS. Enhancing access to fitness centers and offering affordable housing options nearer to campus may aid FGCSs’ academic success. These insights can guide social work practices, highlighting the importance of environmental factors in the academic experiences of FGCS.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)104-116
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Evidence-Based Social Work (United States)
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2024


  • First-generation
  • college degree
  • college students
  • physical activity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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