father and son embracing at graduation

In this brief, we are investigating: to what extent does it matter which degrees and whose degrees we consider when defining first-generation status for a student? In this investigation, we do not make claims about a “right” definition but hope to clarify the trade-offs and differences that practitioners and policymakers should consider when deploying any given definition.

If your parents attended college but did not complete a bachelor’s degree, are you still first-generation? What if they completed a bachelor’s degree but did so at an institution outside the United States? How about associate’s degrees? What if a parent has a Ph.D., but you haven’t had contact with them since you were an infant?

We hope these data points together help illustrate how many factors and considerations can reasonably come into play in defining first-generation status in the college-going population. Just as importantly, we want to highlight how critical it is for any organization or entity to be clear early on about what they’re hoping to learn or identify about students through these definitions, as there is no one, single right answer for how to define this population, context, and intention are key. What needs are we trying to address in a given, and why?

Dive deeper and investigate the full report and the supplemental report. Explore additional reports from our Data Analytics and Research team.