The first-generation student makes up a distinct and unique sub-population of students with somewhat different characteristics, needs, and outcomes than continuing-generation students, especially during their first year in college. This research note addresses some of the differences found in first vs. continuing-generation first-year student experiences and attitudes, as well as the impact of generational status on academic performance.
For the purposes of this note, a first-generation student is defined as a student whose parents or guardians have not completed a four-year (i.e., Bachelor’s) degree.
Key Questions about the First-Generation Student:
- How many students are first-generation?
- What are they key differences between first-generation and continuing-generation students?
- Our sample was relatively split between first- and continuing-generation students.
- First-generation students have significantly lower cumulative GPAs compared to continuing-generation students.
- First-generation students work more, but also struggle more with finances, academics, and social connectedness.
How Many Students Are First-Generation?
Two data points were used to calculate a first-generation student variable. First, campuses could upload a profile item indicating the highest level of education completed by a parent or guardian. For students who did not have this profile item, we used a survey question asking the highest level of education completed by a parent or guardian. First-year students who did not have either of these data points were excluded from this analysis. Figure 1 of the connected research note displays the breakdown of first-year survey respondents by generational status. Forty-three percent indicated that the highest level of education completed by a parent or guardian was less than a four-year college degree.
First-Generation Students vs. Continuing-Generation Students: Key Differences
This analysis compared student self-evaluations of key academic behaviors, social experiences, and commitment based on generational status. A selection of the factors and variables with the greatest group difference are presented to shed some light on the different experiences of the two groups.