Academic performance and adjustment of first-generation students to higher education: A systematic review

José López et al. / Cogent Education / May 31, 2023

Scholarly work conducted before 2010 consistently reported a gap between first-generation and continuing-generation students in college success, as measured by grades, persistence, and graduation rates. Through a systematic literature review, this study aimed to examine the most recent findings, from 2010 until 2020, regarding the academic adjustment process of first-generation students to higher education institutions and the institutional factors that help them in the process. The results report lower performance of first-generation (FG) students and compared to that of continuing-generation (CG) students and measured by grades and persistence. When looking at other variables, such as learning outcomes, intellectual development, learning skills, integration and engagement with the academic environment, we find scarce and mixed evidence. There is also an increased interest in the academic process, and not just in describing academic outcomes of first-generation students. These findings suggest that interventions promoting social belonging, support from peers, parents´ involvement and a welcoming campus climate should be fostered by institutions interested in the access and graduation of FG students.