Getting Critical About Critical Thinking: The Role of Parental Education on First-Generation Students' Cognitive Gains in College

Kilgo, Phillips, Martin, Campbell, Pascarella, & Arminio, 2018 / Journal of College Student Development / December 2018

black female reading in library

Colleges and universities frequently espouse cultivating critical thinking skills as a major outcome for students; however, scholars have recently noted that increases in critical thinking skills are not being attained by college graduates as previously thought (see Arum & Roksa, 2011; Pascarella, Blaich, Martin, & Hanson, 2011). Additionally, as a result of increased access to higher education in recent decades, there has been a major diversification in student populations. Davis (2010) estimated that more than one out of every three first-year college students is the first person in their family to pursue higher education. While all students encounter difficulties in transitioning to college, the experience is more pronounced for first-generation college students (Terenzini, Springer, Yaeger, Pascarella, & Nora, 1996). Definitions of first-generation college student differ across scholarly studies. Understanding this population's gains in critical thinking skills is essential for helping faculty and administrators to provide better academic and social support. We contend that how first-generation college student is operationalized has implications for understanding the critical thinking skills that these students gain in college.