The Hidden Curriculum: First Generation Students at Legacy Universities

Gable / Princeton University Press / January 2021

College has long been viewed as an opportunity for advancement and mobility for talented students regardless of background. Yet for first generation students, elite universities can often seem like bastions of privilege, with unspoken academic norms and social rules. The Hidden Curriculum draws on more than one hundred in-depth interviews with students at Harvard and Georgetown to offer vital lessons about the challenges of being the first in the family to go to college, while also providing invaluable insights into the hurdles that all undergraduates face.

As Rachel Gable follows two cohorts of first generation students and their continuing generation peers, she discovers surprising similarities as well as striking differences in their college experiences. She reveals how the hidden curriculum at legacy universities often catches first generation students off guard, and poignantly describes the disorienting encounters on campus that confound them and threaten to derail their success. Gable shows how first-gens are as varied as any other demographic group, and urges universities to make the most of the diverse perspectives and insights these talented students have to offer.

The Hidden Curriculum gives essential guidance on the critical questions that university leaders need to consider as they strive to support first generation students on campus, and demonstrates how universities can balance historical legacies and elite status with practices and policies that are equitable and inclusive for all students.