With respect to postsecondary persistence and attainment, four outcomes were examined: the number of enrollment spells,4 retention at the initial 4-year institution, persistence track to a bachelor's degree, and attainment or last academic year of enrollment through 1998.
First-generation students were less likely to be enrolled continuously or to attain a degree at their initial postsecondary institution than students whose parents had completed college (60 percent versus 73 percent). They were also more likely to have stopped out5 or left their first institution of enrollment than their peers whose parents had a college degree (19 percent versus 8 percent). These differences disappeared, however, among students who took rigorous high school courses. In this case, first-generation students were as likely as students whose parents had a college degree to be continuously enrolled or to have attained a degree in June 1998 (87 percent versus 86 percent).
The study results also show that students who remained at the initial 4-year institution or made a lateral transfer to a new 4-year institution were considered to have stayed on the persistence track to a bachelor's degree. Overall, first-generation students were less likely than students whose parents had completed a 4-year degree to stay on the persistence track (58 percent versus 77 percent). Not only were first-generation students more likely than their peers whose parents finished college to leave the persistence track through a stopout or downward transfer (22 percent versus 14 percent), they also were more than twice as likely to leave their first institution without returning (21 percent versus 9 percent). Moreover, even among students who took rigorous coursework in high school, first-generation students were almost twice as likely as students whose parents had completed college to leave the persistence track through a stopout or downward transfer (14 percent versus 8 percent).
Though the negative relationship between first-generation status and persistence was strong and consistent, the picture was more positive when looking at those who left postsecondary education without returning, while controlling for the rigor of students' secondary school curriculum and their scores on college entrance examinations. Among those students who took a rigorous high school curriculum, first-generation students and students whose parents completed college had similar rates of postsecondary departure without return (5 percent and 3 percent). And though first-generation students who did not exceed the core New Basics in high school were less likely to stay on the persistence track to a bachelor's degree compared to their counterparts (55 percent versus 69 percent), the likelihood of staying on the persistence track for students who took rigorous coursework did not differ meaningfully for first-generation students and students whose parents had a bachelor's degree (81 and 89 percent, respectively).
Finally, this study examined overall rates of persistence and attainment in spring 1998, 3 years after initial enrollment. Students whose parents had a bachelor's degree were more likely than their first-generation peers to have attained a degree or to still be enrolled 3 years after entering a 4-year institution (88 percent versus 73 percent). This difference was particularly evident for first-generation students who did not take a rigorous curriculum in high school: they were much less likely than students whose parents completed college to be enrolled 3 years after entering a 4-year institution (65 percent versus 85 percent).