STEM degree completion and first-generation college students: A cumulative disadvantage approach to the outcomes gap

The Review of Higher Education / March 2020

STEM majors offer pathways to lucrative careers but are often inaccessible to first-generation students. Using data from the Education Longitudinal Study, we conducted descriptive statistics, regression analyses, and group comparisons to examine differences between first-generation students and continuing-generation students across STEM degree, non-STEM degree, dropout, and no degree completion. Findings illuminate that generation status is related to STEM completion, but other factors are driving this association; for example, pre-college STEM factors have significant predictive power. Our implications suggest a need to further examine pre-college and transfer pathways to STEM and to explore the limitations of first-generation status as a categorization.