Which Colleges Enroll First-Generation Students?

The higher education world is abuzz over the Obama Administration’s Saturday morning release of a new College Scorecard tool (and underlying trove of data). In my initial reaction piece, I discussed some of the new elements that are available for the first time. Earnings of former students are getting the most attention (and have been frequently misinterpreted as being the earnings of graduates only), but today I am focusing on a new data element that should be of interest to students, researchers, and policymakers alike.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid has included a question about the highest education level of the student’s parent(s), but this information was never included in publicly available data. (And, yes, the FAFSA application period will be moved up three months starting in 2016—and my research on the topic may have played a small role in it!) In my blog post on Saturday, I showed the distribution of the percentage of first-generation students (as defined as not having a parent with at least some college) among students receiving federal financial aid dollars. Here it is again:

firstgen

I dug deeper into the data to highlight the ten four-year public and private nonprofit colleges with the lowest and highest percentages of first-generation students (among those receiving federal aid) in 2013. The results are below:

Four-year private nonprofit colleges with the fewest first-generation students, 2013.
Name Pct First Gen
California Institute of Technology 5.9
Wheaton College (IL) 8.3
Oberlin College (OH) 8.5
Elon University (NC) 8.6
Dickinson College (PA) 9.0
Macalester College (MN) 9.1
University of Notre Dame (IN) 9.7
Carnegie Mellon University (PA) 9.8
Hobart William Smith Colleges (NY) 9.8
Rhode Island School of Design 10.6
Source: College Scorecard/NSLDS.
Note: Only includes students receiving Title IV aid, excludes specialty colleges.
Four-year public colleges with the fewest first-generation students, 2013.
Name Pct First Gen
College of William and Mary (VA) 13.2
University of Vermont 14.1
Georgia Institute of Technology 16.5
University of North Carolina School of the Arts 17.4
University of Virginia 17.6
New College of Florida 18.0
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor 18.0
SUNY College at Geneseo 18.4
Clemson University 18.5
University of Wisconsin-Madison 19.1
Source: College Scorecard/NSLDS.
Note: Only includes students receiving Title IV aid, excludes specialty colleges.

Just 5.9% of students receiving federal financial aid at the California Institute of Technology were defined as first-generation in 2013, and eight other private nonprofit colleges were under 10% (including Oberlin, Notre Dame, and Carnegie Mellon). The lowest public college was the College of William and Mary, where just 13% of students were first-generation. Several flagships check in on the list, including Vermont, Virginia, Michigan, and Wisconsin (where I got my PhD).

The list of colleges with the highest percentage of first-generation students is quite different:

Four-year private nonprofit colleges with the most first-generation students, 2013.
Name Pct First Gen
Colorado Heights University 75.6
Beulah Heights University (GA) 66.0
Heritage University (WA) 64.3
Grace Mission University (CA) 64.1
Hodges University (FL) 63.3
Humphreys College (CA) 60.5
Selma University (AL) 59.8
Mid-Continent University (KY) 59.7
Sojourner-Douglass College (MD) 59.2
University of Rio Grande (OH) 58.5
Source: College Scorecard/NSLDS.
Note: Only includes students receiving Title IV aid, excludes specialty colleges.
Four-year public colleges with the most first-generation students, 2013.
Name Pct First Gen
Cal State University-Los Angeles 64.0
Cal State University-Dominguez Hills 60.2
Cal State University-Stanislaus 60.2
Cal State University-San Bernardino 59.4
Cal State University-Bakersfield 58.2
University of Texas-Pan American* 56.9
University of Arkansas at Monticello 56.1
University of Texas at Brownsville* 55.2
Cal State University-Fresno 53.4
Cal State University-Northridge 53.1
Source: College Scorecard/NSLDS.
Note: Only includes students receiving Title IV aid, excludes specialty colleges.
* These two colleges are now UT-Rio Grande Valley as of Sept. 1.

Six private nonprofit and three public four-year colleges had at least three-fifths of their federal aid recipients classified as first-generation students, ten times the rate of Caltech. The top-ten lists for both public and private colleges include many minority-serving institutions, as well as a good chunk of the Cal State University System. These engines of social mobility deserve credit, as do some flagship institutions that do far better than average in enrolling first-generation students. UC-Berkeley, where 37% of aided students are first-generation, also deserves special commendation.

There are a lot of great data elements present in the College Scorecard data that go beyond earnings. I hope that they get attention from researchers and are disseminated to the public.

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About Robert

I am an assistant professor of higher education at Seton Hall University. All opinions are my own.
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