Persistence and Attainment
To make meaningful comparisons between first-generation and other students, it is important to separate them by degree goal. After 3 years, it is reasonable to expect some of those seeking certificates or associate’s degrees to have completed them. Although few will have earned bachelor’s degrees during this time frame, it is useful to determine if the rest are still on track toward this goal.
Among 1995–96 beginning postsecondary students with certificate or associate’s degree goals, there were no meaningful differences between first-generation and other students in either the percentage who had attained degrees or certificates by 1998 or the percentage who had left without attaining (table 7). Apparent differences were not statistically significant.
As parents’ education increased, so did the likelihood of beginning postsecondary students with bachelor’s degree goals remaining enrolled in 4-year institutions after 3 years. About half of those whose parents had no postsecondary education or only some college (52 percent in each case) were still enrolled, compared with 67 percent of those whose parents had bachelor’s degrees and 83 percent of those whose parents had advanced degrees (table 7).
First-generation students who started at 4-year institutions in 1995–96 were less likely than their counterparts whose parents had bachelor’s or advanced degrees to remain on a persistence track10 to a bachelor’s degree in 1998 (58 versus 77 percent) (Warburton et al. 2001). This relationship held after taking into account other factors that were associated with lower persistence rates, including less than rigorous high school coursetaking, having a first-year GPA in the lowest quartile (2.11 or less), enrolling part time, working full time, and being married.11
When first-generation students reported taking a rigorous curriculum in high school, the persistence gap narrowed. Among students who did not exceed the Core New Basics curriculum in high school, first-generation students persisted at a lower rate than students whose parents had bachelor’s degrees (55 versus 69 percent) (figure 10). Among those who took a rigorous high school curriculum, however, the difference was not statistically significant (81 and 89 percent).
10Persistence track means continuous enrollment (no break for more than 4 months) toward a bachelor’s degree in any 4-year institution.(back to text)
11When all these other factors were taken into account, family income, scores on college entrance examinations, and whether they took remedial courses in their first year were not associated with persistence.(back to text)
Figures and Tables
Table 7: Percentage distribution of 1995–96 beginning postsecondary students according to degree attainment by 1998, by initial goal and parents’ highest level of education