Staying Close or Going Away: How Distance to College Impacts the Educational Attainment and Academic Performance of First-generation College Students

Garza & Fullerton, 2017 / Sociological Perspectives / June 2017

Student Voices

It is widely documented that first-generation college students attain bachelor’s degrees at lower rates than their peers. First-generation students also consistently prioritize distance to college in their school decision-making process. How distance impacts their educational performance, however, is an issue that has not received sufficient research attention. This study uses the Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (BPS:04/09) to investigate whether the distance between the permanent residence of first-generation students enrolled in four-year degree programs and their attending college impacts their educational attainment and grade point average (GPA). We find that first-generation students who attend colleges at a greater distance from home are more likely to graduate from college with a bachelor’s degree. We do not find strong support for the relationship between distance and a student’s GPA in most years of enrollment. We discuss the way college accessibility reinforces inequality within higher education along with the theoretical implications of our findings.