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

Posted by U.S. Department of Education 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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