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Statistical Analysis Report:

First-Generation Students: Undergraduates Whose Parents Never Enrolled in Postsecondary Education

June 1998

(NCES 98-082) Ordering information


This report uses data from the 1989-90 Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (BPS:90/94) and the 1993 Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study (B&B:93/94) to examine the postsecondary experiences and outcomes of first-generation students relative to their peers. After an overview of the demographic, aspirational, and enrollment characteristics of first-generation and non-first-generation students, the report compares the persistence and attainment rates of each of these two groups. It then examines the labor market and further postsecondary outcomes of these students. The major findings are:/1
  • First-generation students were more likely to be older, have lower incomes, be married, and have dependents than their non-first-generation peers (figure 2).
  • First-generation students were more likely to enroll in postsecondary education part-time, and to attend public 2-year institutions; private, for-profit institutions; and other less-than-4-year institutions than their non-first-generation counterparts (table 4, table 3, figure 3).
  • First-generation students were equally as likely to be taking remedial classes as non-first-generation students when they began their postsecondary education. However, there were differences by sector on this measure. At private, not-for-profit 4-year institutions, first-generation students were more likely to be taking remedial courses than their counterparts whose parents had more than a high school education. At the same time, the proportions of first-generation non-first-generation students at public 4-year and public 2-year institutions taking remedial coursework did not differ significantly (table 9).
  • First-generation students were more likely than non-first-generation students to say that being very well off financially and providing their children with better opportunities than they had were very important to them personally (table 11).
  • First-generation students were also more likely to say that obtaining the amount of financial aid they needed, being able to complete coursework more quickly, being able to live at home, and being able to work while attending the school were very important influences in their decision to attend their particular postsecondary institution (table 11).
  • First-generation students persisted in postsecondary education and attained credentials at lower rates then their non-first-generation counterparts. This finding held for students at 4-year institutions and public 2-year institutions (figure 5).
  • If first-generation students attained bachelor's or associate's degrees, they earned comparable salaries and were employed in similar occupations as their non-first-generation peers (table 22, table 23).
  • Even when controlling for many of the characteristics that distinguished them from their peers, such as socioeconomic status, institution type, and attendance status, first-generation student status still had a negative effect on persistence and attainment (table25).


[1] All findings reported in highlights were taken directly from the report, where all comparisons are tested for significance.

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National Center for Education Statistics -
U.S. Department of Education