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When Students Fail to Meet Course Grade Goals: Effectiveness of Compensatory Control Strategies Among First Generation College Going Students


The current study investigated adaptive self-regulatory control processes after failing to reach a short-term academic grade goal in both first and continuing generation college going students. Data was collected via weekly surveys from a sample of 359 diverse students at a public Southern California university (45.4% Asian/Asian American, 34.5% Hispanic, 12.5% White; 56.9% first-generation). A mixed ANCOVA design and a series of hierarchical regressions revealed partial support that control strategies change experienced psychological distress after receiving a final course grade for first generation college going students (FGCS). Failing to reach a desired grade alone did not produce changes in psychological distress, however getting a grade higher than their original goal did produce lower psychological distress regardless of generation status. Moreover, in response to failure to attain a grade goal, FGCS who anticipated use of self-protective strategies in future courses had lower psychological distress in the following academic quarter. This result could be confounded by our findings that FGCS reported lower distress at both timepoints. Subsequent analyses showed FGCS were more likely to anticipate using self-protection and goal adjusting strategies if their course turned out to be more difficult than they had expected compared to continuing generation students. Thus, FGCS may come into the university better equipped to use self-regulatory control resources to navigate academic challenges which protects them from experiencing increased psychological distress after failing to meet an academic goal. The current study highlights the importance of using adaptive self-regulatory control for FGCS both proactively and reactively to unmet academic goals.

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