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Abstract

For emerging adults’ transition to college, normative social and contextual shifts present challenges that are largely productive for development. But not all students have the same experiences nor do all students manage similar experiences in similar ways. Black and Latinx emerging adults, many of whom are first generation college students, are transitioning to primarily white universities, where they must adjust to college life—while dealing with the task of paying for college under financial distress. There is limited qualitative work examining how students of color make meaning of their financial distress while on campus. Paper 1 draws on a mixed-methods study of Black and Latinx emerging adults’ transition to college to investigate how financial distress shape interpretations of self-efficacy and sense of belonging amongst 70 Black and Latinx emerging adults. There was much variation in how Black and Latinx college students interpreted their distress to signify subjective incompetence and how they received help and developed a sense of belonging. Paper 2 examines how the experience of financial distress relates to certainty among Black and Latinx emerging adults that the college degree will pay off, a certainty that is important for college persistence. Furthermore, the research investigates the roles of aspirations, SES, and GPA as alternative explanations. In a representative/fair sample of 533 Black and Latinx first year college students, it was found that the experience of financial distress at the start of their first year was related to decreased certainty in the college degree paying off by the end of their first year. Among Black and Latinx college students, for those experiencing high amounts of distress, certainty decreased substantially. For those experiencing moderate financial distress at the start of the year, certainty decreased but not as substantially. Aspirations did not increase certainty as much as distress decreased certainty, while SES only moderately increased certainty in being able to repay loans in the future. Findings highlight the importance of investigating perceptions/experiences of financial distress as a feature that extends beyond the individual. Furthermore, these findings underscore how phenomenological variation in experience of financial distress influence emerging adults’ certainty about the college degree, and ultimately undercuts persistence. Paper 3 examines the moderating role of social support or institutional type on financial distress—a factor in reducing college persistence. Through an examination of the same sample of 533 Black and Latinx college students, there are trends of differences in social support and institutional type on financial distress as they pertain to certainty about the college degree. Although not statistically significant, some graphs illustrate a consistent pattern. For low and moderate levels of financial distress, social support was the most effective in maintaining and increasing certainty about the worth of the college degree—yet high financial distress was not affected by social support. Concerning the institutional type, or whether they attend a private university or public university, those who attended private universities were more likely to maintain certainty in the value of the college degree in the face of distress, especially high financial distress.

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