Research finds that the way US colleges and universities are set up today puts working-class students at a disadvantage:

Colleges that urge first-generation students to be more independent — to express themselves, find their passions, and realize their individual potential — may be putting some of those students at an academic disadvantage.

Researchers call it a “cultural mismatch.” The seemingly positive values of empowering oneself and influencing the world — qualities that are often touted at universities — contradict the values of students with working-class backgrounds, who may have been raised to prize interdependent traits such as responding to others’ needs and being part of a community, a new study suggests.

“Culture can be really powerful in making people feel like they belong” in a college environment, said Nicole Stephens, the lead author of the study. “If you feel like you belong, it can really shape your academic achievement.”

When students find themselves in a college that doesn’t reflect their interdependent values, they flounder, researchers say. This is especially true for students who are the first in their families to go to college, according to the new study, which is from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.