First-Generation College Students Less Prepared for Important Coursework

By Staff

Research sponsored by Iowa-based testing giant, ACT, indicates yet another education gap for students heading off to college. This time, the most affected are students whose parents didn’t attend college.

ACT and the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE) have released a report that examines the college and career readiness of students whose parents did not receive postsecondary education, and it revealed that the majority of first-generation college students are not ready to succeed in key courses when they get there.

The report, The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2013: First-Generation Students, shows that 52% of first-generation 2013 high school graduates who took the ACT college readiness assessment met none of the four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks, compared to 31% of all ACT-tested graduates who met none of the benchmarks, ACT said in a statement.

First-generation students are defined as those whose parents did not receive any postsecondary education. The ACT-COE report uses data from the about 1.8 million ACT-tested 2013 high school graduates. During ACT registration, students are asked to provide information about parental education, high school course taking and postsecondary aspirations.

Students who reported that neither their mother nor father attended any type of postsecondary training were classified as first-generation students for the analysis in the report.

Only 9% of first-generation students met all four of ACT’s benchmarks compared to 26% of all ACT-tested graduates who met all four benchmarks.

“We knew that first-generation students can face significant obstacles when navigating the college search and enrollment process,” stated Scott Montgomery, ACT vice president of policy, advocacy and government relations. “Our report reveals that even after they take the recommended steps to be prepared academically, many face major hurdles in succeeding in college.”

According to the report, almost all first-generation students want to further their education after high school. About 94% say that they aspire to earn a postsecondary degree. In addition, two-thirds completed ACT’s recommended core curriculum, which comprises four years of English and three years each of math, science, and social studies.

The research-based ACT College Readiness Benchmarks specify the minimum scores students must earn on each of ACT’s four subject tests (English, math, reading, and science) to have about a 75% chance of earning a grade of C or higher in a typical credit-bearing first-year college course in the corresponding subject area.

ACT says that students who meet the benchmarks are more likely to persist in college and earn a degree than those who do not. The report makes three recommendations for ensuring college preparedness at the high school level.

Infusing a Culture of Postsecondary Success. An educator’s vision, attitudes, and motivation have a lasting impact on student achievement. States should support teachers in exposing all high school students, whether they are bound for college or work, to a rigorous core curriculum aligned with college and career readiness standards. The levels of expectation for college readiness and workforce training should be comparable in rigor and clarity of purpose because high-quality education or training after high school is increasingly vital to the success of all students in a rapidly changing world.

Ensuring Access to Rigorous High School Courses. having rigorous and aligned standards, coupled with a core curriculum, will adequately prepare students only if the courses are truly challenging. It is more important for students to take the right kinds of courses rather than merely the right number of courses. high school students who take four years of rigorous English courses and three years each of rigorous mathematics, science, and social studies are more likely to graduate ready for credit-bearing first-year college courses without remediation.

Supporting Early Monitoring and Intervention. Longitudinal data systems enable educators to identify students in need of academic intervention at an early stage, when problems are still solvable, giving teachers and students more time to strengthen these skills before graduation. In order for students to plan their high school coursework, age-appropriate career assessment, exploration, and planning activities that encourage them to consider personally relevant career options should be used regularly. Empowering teachers and administrators with currently available tools is essential for modern instructional practice to monitor student achievement against appropriate benchmarks in core academic subjects throughout elementary, middle, and secondary school.

“This joint report confirms our understanding that first-generation student success requires the coordinated efforts of many people in the TRIO and college access community who have designed a context for services and daily guide their students to enter college and thrive,” stated Maureen Hoyler, president of the Council for Opportunity in Education.