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30 Memorable First Generation College Student Statistics

by Darko Jacimovic

The first generation college student statistics you’ll find below direct attention to a complex and prominent issue. 50% of the student population will start college this year at a serious disadvantage – their parents didn’t go to college.

Now:

The issue behind parents’ lack of higher education is not only that they won’t be able to share valuable college advice and experiences with their children. It also has to do with the fact that those who have just a high school degree or less are more likely to struggle with finances.

Read on if you want to find out what first generation students need to deal with on a daily basis and how they cope with these challenges

10 Key First Generation College Student Statistics and Facts

  • First generation students represent half of the US college population.
  • The median age for first generation college students is 24.
  • English is not the first language of 20% of first generation students.
  • 36% of first generation college students are required to take remedial classes.
  • Continuing generation college students have a 165% higher median household income than first generation students.
  • 75.3% of first generation students predict they’ll need to find work during their freshman year.
  • Less than 50% of first generation students are likely to graduate on time.
  • 50% of first generation college students attend community college.
  • Just 7% of first gen students go to private universities.
  • 61% of first generation graduates want to give back to the community.

How Many First Generation College Students Are There?

first generation college student statistics - university

1. The percentage of first generation college students went down by 20% between 2003 and 2007.

(US News)

The number of students who were the first in their immediate family to go to college began to drop 16 years ago. In just four years, their percentage reduced by a fifth. There was a simple reason for that: 

The number of college-educated Americans was higher than ever, which made their children continuing generation students.

2. 21% of Americans older than 25 had a bachelor’s degree in 1990.

(National Center for Education Statistics)

The National Center for Education Statistics first generation college students data gathered in 2018 supports the previous statistic. By 2015, 33% of Americans held a bachelor’s degree, which significantly reduced the number of first gen students. Furthermore, 72% of students whose parents never attended college decided to enroll in postsecondary education in 2002 (compared to 84% of those whose parents held a college degree).

3. First generation students represent 50% of the college population.

(first generation foundation)

According to the first generation college student statistics 2017 data, around half of all college students are first generation students. When it comes to freshmen, past statistics tell us that 30% of those who are just starting their college adventure have parents who were never enrolled in a higher education institution.

4. 42% of African-American students are first generation students.

(PNPI)

Minority students represent a large segment of first generation college students. The percentage of first generation college students among the black population in America is at 42%. For Hispanic students, the percentage sits at 48%. White students who are considered first generation are represented in significantly smaller numbers; just 28% of Caucasian students belong in this category.

5. The median age for first generation college students is 24.

(PNPI)

The median age for first generation students is 24, while the median age for their peers whose parents (at least one of them) hold a bachelor’s degree or higher is 21.

6. 34% of first generation college students are over the age of 30.

(PNPI)

First generation college student persistence is unmatched; those among this population who don’t go to college right after high school are more likely to do so later in life. More than a third of all first generation students are over the age of 30. For continuing generation college students, that number is 17 in 100.

What First Generation College Students Need to Know

first generation college student statistics - photo

7. English is not the first language of 20% of first generation students.

(PNPI)

One of the major challenges a large part of the first generation college student population has to face is the fact that English is not their first language. A fifth of them use a different language as their primary method of communication. In most cases, that language is Spanish.

8. 36% of first generation college students take remedial classes.

(PNPI)

Remedial education statistics and first generation college student facts show that more than a third of this student population is not proficient enough in core academic skills. These skills do not involve rocket science but rather the basics of literacy and numeracy.

9. First generation college students earn 12% less than their peers.

(EAB)

After graduating from college, first generation students can expect a starting salary that is 12% lower than their peers’. This wage gap, unfortunately, doesn’t get smaller with time. 

10. 61% of first generation college students want to give back to the community after graduating.

(EAB)

First generation college student challenges, such as the one listed in the previous stat, are often caused by their wish to give back to their community. First gen students are more likely to work in the public and not-for-profit sectors, which generally pay less than private and for-profit ones.

11. 20% of eligible students fail to apply for federal financial aid.

(Forbes

85% of all four-year students are eligible for federal financial aid. However, a fifth of them fail to apply, which puts them at a serious disadvantage. First generation college students statistics 2018 (and earlier) data that follows in the next few stats will prove that this student population can use all the financial help they can get.

12. 25.4% of first generation students are considered dependent.

(Wikipedia)

Over a quarter of all college students whose parents’ education level is high school or lower were considered dependent back in the 2011-12 school year. 41.3% were independent, with 38% of all first gen students employed full-time.

13. 44% of first generation college students are married with dependants.

(Wikipedia)

First generation college students statistics on marriage and dependency show that almost half of these students are married with children. The logical conclusion we can draw from this piece of information is that the main motivation behind first gen students starting college is to find better work opportunities that in turn enable them to provide for their families.

14. The median household income for first gen students is $37,565.

(PNPI)

First generation students commonly come from low-income families, which also represents a huge disadvantage. The median household income of college-educated households is over 165% higher; continuing generation college students have a median family income of $99,635, statistics on first generation college students indicate.

15. 75.3% of first generation students think they’ll need to search for a job during their freshman year.

(Forbes)

While just 56.4% of non-first gen students believe they need to work during their first year of college, more than three-quarters of first generation students think this will be necessary.

16. Just 11% of low-income first generation college students earn a degree within six years.

(PNPI)

The percent of first generation college students that graduate within six years of starting college is abysmal. What’s more, it’s even worse for those who come from low-income households. 11 in 100 of these students graduate within six years, while 55 in 100 of their college friends who come from more educated and more well-off households manage to do the same.

17. Just 48% of first generation college students are likely to graduate on time.

(EAB)

First generation college student statistics and 2019 predictions show that the odds are stacked against these students in more than just the financial aspect:

A third (33%) of first generation students leave college within three years of starting. That figure for continuing generation students is 14%. Less than half of first generation students are on track to earn their degree on time three years into college against 66% of those whose parents have a bachelor’s degree. 

18. Almost half of the 2018 UC Irvine graduates were first generation students.

(Los Angeles Times)

Not everything is bleak for first gen college students, though. Some states, such as California, are heavily investing in their education. First generation college students statistics from 2018 prove this statement; 4,305 of the 8,616 bachelor’s degrees awarded at UC Irvine last year went to students whose parents aren’t college-educated.

19. Temple University offers scholarships for first generation students.

(The Philadelphia Tribune)

Pennsylvania is another state that is trying to get more first generation students into its universities. Starting this fall, Temple University is offering $1.5 million worth of scholarships to these students in order to help them graduate by reducing their student debt.

20. Michelle Obama shared some tips with first generation college students.

(Forbes)

Former First Lady Michelle Obama addressed first generation college students’ struggles and shared some advice with this student population. Here are some of the tips she and other prominent speakers at the fifth annual Beating the Odds Summit shared:

  • Try college even if you didn’t do well in high school.
  • Experiment for the first two years and choose a major that excites you.
  • Student-athletes need to be much better than their peers at managing sports and school.
  • Make new friends.
  • Ask for help if you need any, either from your peers or from the school.

Interesting Facts and Statistics on First Generation College Students

21. 50% of first generation college students attend community college.

(EAB, PNPI)

Around half of all first generation students pick community colleges. Continuing generation students do the same to a significantly smaller extent – just a quarter of them attend a community college.

22. Just 7% of first generation students go to a private college.

(EAB)

First generation college student statistics for 2019 predict that just 7% of first gen students will go to a private college this fall, as opposed to 23% of those prospective students whose parents have a higher-ed degree. Similar to last year, 26% of the first generation students will attend a four-year public university together with 45% of all continuing generation students.

23. 8% of first generation college students enroll in distance learning.

(PNPI)

One form of education first generation students beat their continuing generation student peers at is e-learning. Just 5% of all continuing generation college students decide to go with this option.

24. First generation students are more committed to their education than continuing generation college students.

(Inside Higher Ed)

First generation students statistics point to an interesting trend; when it comes to educational commitment, according to a survey that included close to 750,000 students, first gen college students beat their continuing generation peers. In fact, they do so in multiple categories, such as academic engagement and academic self-efficacy. Social comfort and resilience are where continuing gen students pull ahead.

25. 91% of first generation students wonder whether attending college was the right call.

(Inside Higher Ed)

First generation college students challenges can become a source of constant stress and self-doubt. A whopping 91% of these students wonder whether attending college was the right choice for their future. We’ve already seen that a third of them quit school after three years. But the college dropout rate data tells us that 20% of students who quit college do so having finished 75% of their degree requirements. 

26. Persistence rate for first generation students grows with family income.

(Oregon State University)

With every $10,000 more in family income, students are 2% less likely to quit school before earning a degree, first generation student statistics from Oregon State University show. Financial aid is another major factor in these students’ persistence rate; for every $1,000 increase in grants, first gen students’ persistence rate goes up by 2.7%.

27. Eastern Kentucky University’s GURU program answers 2,000 first generation students’ questions per day.

(EAB)

Some of the higher education institutions that pay attention to first gen students were already mentioned in the previous section. EKU is another one on the list. This university hired and trained 35 of their students to help their struggling peers with any potential issues – both personal and academic ones.

28. Just 28% of colleges hold data on first generation students.

(EAB)

First generation college student facts and data are stored in less than a third of all colleges’ systems. Additionally, not all higher education institutions even formally define the term first generation; 73% of those institutions have found it necessary to acknowledge this student population. 

29. 5% of first generation graduates start a doctoral program four years after receiving their bachelor’s degree.

(Inside Higher Ed)

The penultimate piece of statistics and facts about first generation college students:

While 5% of first gen students who hold a bachelor’s degree enroll in a Ph.D. program within four years of graduation, 10% of their continuing generation peers do the same. 

30. 68% of first generation students are working four years after graduating from college.

(Inside Higher Ed)

First generation college students who decide to focus on finding a job rather than pursue graduate studies are on a more even field with their fellow students whose parents attended college. 70% of continuing gen students are working four years after graduation.

Conclusion

Being a first generation college student can prove to be an empowering tool for some students. For others, it represents a huge disadvantage, as it often comes with a low socio-economic status. 

The burden of having to worry about finances while going through a challenging college program can prove to be too much for some, as evident from the fascinating stats and facts listed in this text. 

Luckily, there are individuals and institutions committed to the cause of alleviating this burden. We all hope that the future generations won’t find being the first in their family to attend college any more difficult than those whose parents have higher education.

FAQ

1. What are first generation college students?

First generation college students are college students whose parents never enrolled in post-secondary education. Students whose parents attended college are referred to as continuing generation college students. There is a strong link between parents’ education level and the likelihood of their children to attend college, which is where the significance of this text lies.

2. Are you a first generation college student if your parents went to community college?

Being a first generation college student means that neither of your parents was ever enrolled in a higher education institution. First generation students are those whose parents have high school degrees or lower. If either of your parents attended community college or has an associate’s degree, you’re considered a continuing generation student.

3. What are some barriers for college students?

Both first and continuing generation students face a mixture of environmental, social, and institutional setbacks. Lack of organization, lack of family support, poverty, media distractions, class sizes, and underdeveloped skills are just some of those barriers.

4. What obstacles do first generation college students face?

According to first generation college student statistics, financial challenges, racial disparity, and their families’ lack of understanding of the college struggles first gen students experience are just some of the issues the majority of them face.

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