WWC review of this study

Closing the social-class achievement gap: A difference-education intervention improves first-generation students academic performance and all students college transition.

Stephens, N. M., Hamedani, M. G., & Destin, M. (2014). Psychological Science, 25(4), 943-953. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797613518349.

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
    , grade

Reviewed: December 2021

At least one finding shows promising evidence of effectiveness
At least one statistically significant positive finding
Meets WWC standards without reservations
Academic achievement outcomes—Statistically significant positive effect found for the domain
Comparison Period Sample Intervention
Significant? Improvement

First year GPA

Social Belonging vs. Business as usual

1 Year

Full sample;
134 students





Evidence Tier rating based solely on this study. This intervention may achieve a higher tier when combined with the full body of evidence.

Characteristics of study sample as reported by study author.

  • Race
    Native American
    Other or unknown
  • Ethnicity
    Not Hispanic or Latino    


The study was conducted at a highly selective, midsized private university in the United States.

Study sample

Of the 186 students who were randomly assigned to the intervention group or comparison group, 147 of them completed the end-of-year survey. Demographic information is available for these 147 students but not for the final analytic sample of 134 students. Among the 147 students, 66 students were first-generation and 81 were continuing-generation. Among the first-generation students, 45% were White, 24% were Latino, 17% were Asian, and 14% were Black. Fifty-nine percent were low income, which was defined as being eligible to receive Pell grants. Among the continuing-generation students, 52% were White, 25% were Asian, 15% were Latino, 7% were Black, and 1% were Native American. Nine percent of these students qualified as low income.

Intervention Group

Students in the intervention group attended one of eight moderated panel discussions, all featuring the same panel of eight demographically diverse college seniors (three were first-generation, five were non-first-generation). Each panel discussion lasted one hour, during which panelists responded to questions posed by a moderator. Panelists talked about how their backgrounds affected their college experiences. Their responses illustrated how their social class backgrounds both positively and negatively shaped their college experiences and influenced the strategies they adopted for success in college. At the end of the session, attendees were invited to take a short survey and make a video testimonial on the lessons they learned from the panel. At the end of their freshman year, students completed another survey.

Comparison Group

The comparison group participated in a parallel activity but panelists’ responses included general content and did not highlight the students’ different backgrounds. All other activities were the same.

Support for implementation

The authors provided information on how the moderators introduced the study to the students assigned to the intervention and comparison groups and the questions that were used in each group.

Reviewed: October 2014

Meets WWC standards without reservations

Evidence Tier rating based solely on this study. This intervention may achieve a higher tier when combined with the full body of evidence.

Study sample characteristics were not reported.

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