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First-Generation College Students’ Motives to Start University Education: An Investment in SelfDevelopment, One’s Economic Prospects or to Become a Role Model?

Keppens et al. / Young / January 2023


In this article, the authors engage with the emerging literature that studies the increased enrolment of first-generation college students (FGCS), that is, students from households where neither parent has obtained a bachelor’s /master’s degree. This article answers two research questions. First, data from 2,338 first-year students are used to investigate the extent to which FGCS differ from continuing-generation college students (CGCS) concerning the reason why one enrols in university education. Second, to what degree do these motives explain differences in study choice? Our results show that FCGS, compared to CGCS, more strongly endorsed the economic investment motive and what the authors call the social investment motive, that is, the motivation to become a role model for one’s community. In addition, our findings reveal that the choice for more economically rewarding fields of study is related to these motives to start a university education. In the conclusion, the authors discuss the implications of our findings.

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