A study of first-generation college students published today by the U.S. Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics shows that children of college-educated parents are much more likely to pursue and complete an undergraduate degree than are young people whose parents did not attend college. However, the gap closed significantly upon completion of a bachelor's degree, and the two groups' employment status, salary amounts and rates of enrollment in a master's degree were nearly the same.
A person’s parental education levels affected their choice of college, the study found. Nearly half of all first-generation students who enrolled in postsecondary education chose a public two-year college, compared to about one-quarter of the children of college graduates. And of the students who enrolled in public four-year universities, 45 percent had parents with college degrees, while 26 percent did not. Meanwhile, only 7 percent of first-generation college students chose a private college, compared to 23 percent of students with parents who earned a bachelor’s degree.
From the study:
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’ collegegoing 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) (Collier and Morgan 2008). This lack of cultural capital negatively affects even those first-generation students who are academically well prepared for college.