U.S. Department of Education

First-Generation Students College Access, Persistence, and Postbachelor’s Outcomes

Posted on March 12, 2018

In recent decades, an increasing proportion of the U.S. population has enrolled in college and earned a bachelor’s degree (Snyder, de Brey, and Dillow 2016). The
percentage of U.S. adults age 25 and over who held a bachelor’s degree increased from 21 percent in 1990 to 33 percent in 2015 (Snyder, de Brey, and Dillow 2016). Accompanying this trend is a shrinking share of children whose parents have not attended college; Cahalan et al. (2006), studying two cohorts of high school sophomores, noted that in 1980 some 77 percent of high school sophomores’ parents had not enrolled in postsecondary education; by 2002, the percentage had declined to 62 percent.

The share of students enrolled in postsecondary education whose parents had not attended college (often referred to as “first-generation students” in the literature) has also declined: between 1999–2000 and 2011–12, the proportion decreased from 37 percent to 33 percent (Skomsvold 2015; Staklis and Chen 2010).


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