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What’s in a Name? The Impact of Divergent Definitions of First-Generation College Students

by Sanga Kim & Nicholas A. Bowman - March 01, 2019

Background/Context: Higher education research has frequently identified disparities between first-generation college students and continuing-generation students in terms of college experiences and success. However, researchers and policymakers have used various definitions to indicate first-generation status, which can lead to confusion and may even affect the results of studies on this topic.

Purpose/Objective: In this paper, we considered how the use of divergent definitions of first-generation college students may influence the findings of research on college student experiences and outcomes.

Research Design: Using the Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study: 2012-2014 (BPS:12/14), we conducted regression analyses to examine the relationship between the measurement of parental education and various outcome measures, including college experiences, satisfaction, academic confidence, grades, retention, and persistence.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Choosing divergent definitions of first-generation status frequently affected the results, and the differential findings did not have a consistent, predictable pattern. Therefore, researchers should provide a clear description of how they define first-generation status as well as a rationale for using that definition.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: March 01, 2019
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22689, Date Accessed: 2/28/2021 8:31:36 PM

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About the Author
  • Sanga Kim
    Iowa City Community School District
    E-mail Author
    SANGA KIM is an Equity Program Manager at the Iowa City Community School District. She received a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa in Education with an emphasis in sociology of education. Her research uses sociological perspectives to study equity and racial diversity in higher education, including college access and experiences of underrepresented groups. She has co-authored several articles that explore the impact of Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP), that have been published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis and Educational Policy.
  • Nicholas Bowman
    University of Iowa
    E-mail Author
    NICHOLAS A. BOWMAN is a professor in the Department of Educational Policy and Leadership Studies as well as the director of the Center for Research on Undergraduate Education at the University of Iowa. His research uses a social psychological lens to explore key issues in higher education, including student success, diversity experiences, undergraduate admissions, and research methodology. He is an author of How College Affects Students (Volume 3): 21st Century Evidence that Higher Education Works, which reviewed over 1,800 studies on the short-term and long-term impact of college.
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