Skip Navigation
PEDAR: Executive Summary First-Generation Students in Postsecondary Education: A Look at Their College Transcripts
First-Generation Students in Postsecondary Education: A Brief Portrait
Remedial Coursetaking
Undergraduate Major
Credits Earned
Coursetaking in Selected Areas
Postsecondary Performance
Factors Related to Degree Completion and Persistence
Research Methodology
Full Report (PDF)
Executive Summary (PDF)
First-Generation Students in Postsecondary Education: A Brief Portrait

About 28 percent of the NELS 1992 12th-graders were first-generation students (figure A). However, they represented 22 percent of those who entered postsecondary education between 1992 and 2000, indicating that first-generation students were less likely than other students to attend college within 8 years after high school.4 Roughly 4 in 10 (43 percent) first-generation students who entered postsecondary education during this period left without a degree by 2000, while 24 percent had graduated with a bachelor’s degree (figure A). The opposite pattern was observed for students whose parents were college graduates: a large majority (68 percent) had completed a bachelor’s degree, while 20 percent left without a degree.

As in earlier studies (Ishitani 2003), this report found that first-generation students had some family and background characteristics that are associated with attrition. Compared with their peers whose parents were college graduates, first-generation students were more likely to be Black or Hispanic and to come from low-income families (table 1). They were less prepared academically for college as demonstrated by their lower rates of taking higher-level mathematics courses in high school, their lower senior achievement test scores, and their lower college entrance examination scores. They were also more likely to delay postsecondary entry, begin at a 2-year institution, and attend part time and discontinuously (table 2). These characteristics, as shown in earlier research, put them at potential risk for not persisting in their postsecondary studies and completing a degree (Nuñez and Cuccaro-Alamin 1998).

next section