From “First in Family” to “First to Finish”: Does College Graduation Vary by How First-Generation College Status Is Defined?

Toutkoushian, R.K., May-Trifiletti, J.A., & Clayton, A.B., 2019 / Educational Policy / January 2019

The Challenge

The purpose of our study was to examine the relationship between alternative definitions of first-generation college students (FGCSs) and graduation from 2- and 4-year colleges. Using Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 data, we constructed eight definitions of FGCSs based on parents’ highest level of education and the number of parents at that level. We identified a series of regression models to explain whether the student earned a 2- or 4-year degree, and focused on the association between different definitions of FGCSs and student success. We estimated both unconditional models for all 10th graders in the sample as well as conditional models for only those who enrolled in college, to see if FGCS status mattered even for those who overcame the access hurdle. Furthermore, we examined the relationship between FGCSs and the pathways to college completion for students who have initially enrolled in a 2- versus 4-year colleges.