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Students Whose Parents Did Not Go to College: Postsecondary Access, Persistence, and Attainment

Choy, 2001 / National Center for Education Statistics / December 2001


This essay summarizes the findings of a series of recent NCES studies about the experiences of high school graduates and postsecondary students whose parents did not attend college. These studies show that such students are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to postsecondary access—a disadvantage that persists even after controlling for other important factors such as educational expectations, academic preparation, support from parents and schools in planning and preparing for college, and family income. Also according to these studies, among those who overcome the barriers to access and enroll in postsecondary education, students whose parents did not attend college remain at a disadvantage with respect to staying enrolled and attaining a degree (referred to as persistence and attainment throughout this essay), again controlling for other related factors. Rigorous high school coursetaking mitigates, but does not completely close, the gaps in access and persistence. For those who earn a bachelor’s degree, labor market outcomes in the short term (but not enrollment in graduate school) are similar regardless of parents’ education.

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