Attending a college or university is a significant accomplishment for anyone. Many students approach this milestone with goals they’ve been building up for years, or they're following in their family’s footsteps. But first-generation college students are charting their own paths, and it can be difficult to know what’s coming and what will be expected of them.
EAB reported a study that found 33% of first-generation college students drop out of school within three years—and that was in 2019 before COVID-19 added even more challenges for students.
But what, specifically, is influencing first-generation students to end their education prematurely?
In First-Generation Students: College Access, Persistence, and Postbachelor’s Outcomes (Cataldi et al.) from the U.S. Department of Education, the authors explain what first- generation students are missing out on:
“A considerable body of research indicates that students whose parents have not attended college often face significant challenges in accessing postsecondary education, succeeding academically once they enroll, and completing a degree... When they do enroll, first-generation students cannot benefit from their parents’ college-going experience—a valuable source of cultural capital that helps students navigate college (e.g., understanding the significance of the syllabus, what “office hours” means, or how to cite sources in written assignments)...This lack of cultural capital negatively affects even those first-generation students who are academically well prepared for college.”
Without other family members or mentors to guide them through the application process, help them find financial aid, and make them aware of campus resources, first-generation students can be overwhelmed and, ultimately, unsuccessful. It’s up to colleges to provide resources and support for this important and vulnerable group of students to set them up for long-term success that will last far beyond graduation.